Most of the resources below are specific to an area within MENA (most are country-specific). For any single person interested in expanding their cultural understanding, they will likely find one or two of the resources below to particularly useful depending on where in the world they are hoping to use Arabic.
Historical Literary Resources
Orientalism, by Edward Said
In this wide-ranging, intellectually vigorous study, Said traces the origins of “orientalism” to the centuries-long period during which Europe dominated the Middle and Near East and, from its position of power, defined “the orient” simply as “other than” the occident. This entrenched view continues to dominate western ideas and, because it does not allow the East to represent itself, prevents true understanding. Essential, and still eye-opening, Orientalism remains one of the most important books written about our divided world.
A History of the Arab Peoples, by Albert Hourani
Encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, this fascinating work chronicles the rich spiritual, political, and cultural institutions of Arab history through 13 centuries.
No region in the world today is more important than the Middle East: no people more misunderstood than the Arabs. In this definitive masterwork, distinguished Oxford historian Albert Hourani offers the most lucid, enlightening history ever written on the subject. From the rise of Island to the Palestinian issue, from the Prophet Mohammed to Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. A History of the Arab Peoples chronicles the rich spiritual, political and cultural institutions of this civilization through thirteen centuries of war, peace, literature and religion. Lauded by authorities, encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, here is a remarkable window on today’s conflicts and on the future of a glorious and troubled land.
Historical Fiction Novels
The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.
Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom–Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.
The Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street), by Naguib Mahfouz
The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons–the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. Al-Sayyid Ahmad’s rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.
Throughout the trilogy, the family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two World Wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight, The Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller.
Peace Corps Resources
Peace Corps Jordan Cultural Notes (pages 18-21)
Cultural guidelines to be read in preparation for travel to Jordan.
Enables readers to understand Moroccan lifestyles and values in order to communicate and interact effectively and appropriately with your community and avoid unaccepted behaviors.
An intimate portrait of Tunisia through the lives and stories of six Tunisians. Taking us behind the headlines, My Tunisia brings us into to the daily lives, dreams and ambitions of Tunisians from all walks of life.
Five women share their stories of love, life and marriage in Lebanon.
Profile of Morocco’s nomadic tribes, many of whom are gradually giving up their traditional way of life to offer their children formal education.
Lebanese and Egyptians discover their family history through old photos and tales of the studios where they were taken.
The stories of five Egyptian village women supporting their entire families by selling local produce in the markets.
The Making of the Modern Arab World
Follows characters and ideas that have shaped the modern arab world. The four podcast taglines are as follows:
Episode 1: The liberal era in Egypt and Syria.
Episode 2: The rise and fall of Arab nationalism.
Episode 3: The rise of Islamism.
Episode 4: The build up to the Arab Spring, as two worlds collide.