Summer might not seem like the time to visit desert sands, and sure, there's more than just desert in the Middle East. But the subject is always topical.

To make sense of the geopolitics, it helps to be steeped in a place, to try to understand the people and their motivations. These books won't make you an expert but maybe they will clarify the murk somewhat, allowing you to see varying parts of the Middle East through the eyes of people who live there.

Best of all, they are great to read for their own sake and also well suited for discussion. If you're ready for some armchair travel to a region of the world that's often terribly misunderstood, buckle your seat-belts and join us for the ride!

Salt Houses Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

Hardcover & ebook May 2017. 320 pages. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Capturing the plight of the Palestinian people in fiction might be a tall order but this moving debut novel about a multi-generational family with roots in Palestine, comes close. When Salma reads the predictions about upheaval in her daughter's life, little does she realize that her small family including her son and daughter will be torn apart and drift from one safe harbor to the next. Traveling from Palestine to Kuwait to Paris and Boston, this is a telling tale of displacement and home.
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The Photographer's Wife The Photographer's Wife by Suzanne Joinson

Paperback Feb 2017; also in ebook. 352 pages. Published by Bloomsbury USA

Secrets buried in the desert might be harder than most to unearth. So finds Prudence who was just eleven when she was a bystander to a high-voltage drama that played out in Jerusalem under her father's watch. Now a reclusive artist, Prue must piece together exactly what went down with her small coterie of family friends in a land that was a mixing bowl of diverse people before things went south. An eloquent snapshot of 1920s Jerusalem.
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The Gardens of Consolation The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza

Paperback Dec 2016; also in ebook. 208 pages. Published by Europa Editions

This terrific novel is Exhibit A in how a country's shifting political climate can shake the solid foundations of a family. Teenagers Talla and Sadar move from rural Iran to the outskirts of Tehran after marriage and come of age at a time when the country's social mores are evolving rapidly. Talla is at first forced to wear the chador and then later, is forced not to. Unsettled by the pace of such change, she has to also make peace with her son's embrace of Iran's new political leader, Mohammed Mossadegh. A sharp analysis of one family's attempt to stay put no matter which way the political wind blows.
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Children of the Jacaranda Tree Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

Paperback Jun 2014; also in ebook. 288 pages. Published by Atria Books

The children of the Iranian Revolution get caught up in history in this haunting story, much of which is borrowed from the author's own experiences. Following a central cast of characters over three generations, this is a precise capture of Iran under upheaval. While the succeeding descendants are still weighed down by the burden of their collective past, plenty of hopeful notes pepper this engaging story.
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The Sandcastle Girls Book Jacket The Sandcastle Girls: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian

Paperback Apr 2013; also in ebook. 320 pages. Published by Vintage

The Armenian genocide frames a love story that travels from Aleppo, Syria, to the United States where a writer slowly unravels the details about her grandparents' lives many decades ago. There are two plotlines here, one that follows the treasure hunt for secrets about the past and the other, a romance that endures despite the horrors of the genocide. A bestselling work of historical fiction that has been a book club favorite for years.
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An Unnecessary Woman Book Jacket An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

Paperback Nov 2014; also in ebook. 304 pages. Published by Grove Press

Aaliya Sohbi is an introvert, widowed, childless, living out her last days in a small apartment in Beirut. As she goes through the daily minutiae of life, the reader gets a glimpse of Lebanon's Civil War through Aaliya's eyes and the challenges and joys of living in a city that has seen many ups and downs in its recent history. Sohbi makes for a memorable protagonist and readers will empathize with her struggles with loneliness and old age.
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In the Kingdom of Men Book Jacket In the Kingdom of Men: A Novel by Kim Barnes

Paperback Feb 2013; also in ebook. 336 pages. Published by Anchor Books

Poor Gin (Virginia) McPhee. She escapes her smothering religious upbringing in 1960s Oklahoma to marry her childhood sweetheart Mason, when his job with a Saudi oil company has them move to the deserts and riches. Now the life and marriage she only dreamed of just might become a reality but underneath that slick veneer, there's all kinds of machinations and subterfuge brewing. A gripping and powerful story of a woman who must take the reins of her life in her own hands when there are very few options left.
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The Islamic Enlightenment The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times by Christopher de Bellaigue

Hardcover & ebook Apr 2017. 432 pages. Published by Liveright

Contemporary world leaders often call for reform in the Middle East, little understandinig that modernism has been firmly rooted here for a good long time. Using the cities of Istanbul, Cairo and Tehran as vectors to trace these progressive moments, this well-researched work of nonfiction shows just how skewed our perceptions of the Middle East can sometimes be. Required reading for those interested in today's geopolitical machinations and a lot of fodder for book clubs to chew over.
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The New Odyssey The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis by Patrick Kingsley

Hardcover & ebook Jan 2017. 368 pages. Published by Liveright

The migration of refugees from war-torn countries to Europe and beyond has been one of the biggest challenges of recent years. This epic and brilliant work of reporting by The Guardian's first migration correspondent looks at the desperate refugees fleeing their homelands, the networks who make the journey possible to feed their own ends and the volunteers who immerse themselves in the cause. By focusing on the odyssey of one particular refugee, Hashem al-Souki, Kingsley makes the cause both specific and urgent.
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