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Elias Jahshan, the editor of the extraordinary new anthology, This Arab Is Queer (Saqi Books) picks some of his favourite books for Pride Month 2022.


The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu


I absolutely adored this book. The prose is a joy to read, and coupled with fab dialogue and wonderful characters (including queer characters), the coming-of-age story of Nnenna Maloney was hard to put down. Most importantly though, themes of generational clashes, class, gender, sexuality, and race and skin colour are explored deftly and with nuance. Okechukwu Nzelu is a promising, talented writer and I can't wait to read his latest book, Here Again Now.

The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine


I had known about Rabih Alameddine for so long since his seminal work Koolaids: The Art of War is regarded as a trailblazer of sorts for queer Arab fiction. But it was this novel that introduced me to him and made me a lifelong fan. An allegory of death and loss; sex and religion; war; acceptance and stigma; art and love; politics and AIDS; and the need to remember – The Angel of History is simply as wonderful as it is moving.

Love is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar


This is a powerful, compelling travelogue memoir interspersed with anecdotes and essays that delve into sexuality and body image, religion and culture, childhood and family, and forgiveness and reconciliation. Honest and unflinching, Love Is an Ex-Country highlights the power and love we can derive from fighting for ourselves and living unapologetically - even if it takes a journey of complex, nuanced experiences to reach that stage

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong


This is one of the most beautifully written novels I have ever read. The exploration of family history, the Vietnam, war and the trauma and displacement that comes with it, masculinity and sexuality, immigration and the matriarchy, all against a backdrop of working class America. It all comes together so beautifully. Ocean Vuong's prose is poetic and emotive, and truly, a pleasure to read.


You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat


You Exist Too Much follows an unnamed bisexual Palestinian-American woman, as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery while caught between two worlds. Arafat's writing is honest and she doesn't shy away from themes around mental health, sex, family, and the fragmented sense of home that comes with being part of the Palestinian diaspora. The narrator's cultural background and sexuality are also just able to be, without the white gaze interfering.

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Sabba Khan, winner of Jhalak Prize 2022 for her graphic novel The Roles We Play (Myriad Press) recommends five books that have influenced her life and work.



To Dig A Hole That Collapses Again by Otobong Nkanga

This book is essentially an exhibition catalogue for Nkanga’s exhibition in 2018 in Chicago and yet it is so much more. We have paintings, photos of the exhibition, photos of Nkanga’s performances, colour studies, sketches, roughs, all interspersed with poems from Omar Kholeif and short essays from Teju Cole,and all in dialogue with each other. Together they speak of the twisted relationship between the Western world and Africa, of exploitation, of violence. We move from economics, to geopolitics to ruptured bodies so fluidly. This book transcends the time it was made for, and moves beyond simply being an exhibition catalogue. It has become a practice manifesto for an incredible multi-disciplinary artist of our living times.


The Will to Change by Bell Hooks

The Will To Change was a book that my partner’s best friend accidentally left in our house. I recall taking a picture of it and asking him if he wanted me to post it to his newly relocated home in Berlin, he told me I could keep it and read it myself. Up until then I had not known of bell Hooks, and this was my gentle way of falling into her world and her words. She has hugely inspired me since, and I feel wholly changed and loved by her words. I think if it wasn’t for this particular book, I would still struggle with my relationship with some of the men in my family, and I’d struggle to see the beauty of multi-generational family living. I owe her a lot.



Salt by Nayyirah Waheed

I tell myself Waheed came about before the profligate use of pared back social media friendly poetry. So she’ll always be a true trailblazer in my heart. There is one poem in her collection that takes me to the bottom of the deepest ocean only to rise to the highest tip in an instant. I recall it regularly:


“islam. is still in my life.

we are old soulmates.

who could not work out the knots against skin.

who could not believe in each other. while believing in ourselves.

who could not make each other happy. without.

making each other a sadness.

who

were born to each other. and never fell in love.

but

we still sip tea.

share our hands.

touch hearts.

every now and then.”


Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob is a journalist and writer who illustrates her complex conversations with her son in a pared back visual language. Photographic backdrops superimposed with character portraits that are mostly repeated across the book make space for the dialogue, the scenarios, the conversations; sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious. Mira Jacob showed me you can lay your heart out in the table and yet be big picture enough to be critically reflective; you can both be personal from your starting point but end up with astute social commentary that zooms out and moves beyond your own experiences.


My Past is a Foreign Country by ZebaTalkhani

Two years before I was set to publish my own book I met ZebaTalkhani who gave me a proof copy of her book My Past is a foreign Country. This was the biggest gift for me at the time: here was a Muslim author in London writing about her personal experiences in an open and honest way. She showed me it is possible, you can be true to your own experiences whilst honouring where you have come from and the struggles you have faced. Her book is tender and delicate yet quietly strong and courageous. I come back to it regularly.

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Maisie Chan, winner of Jhalak Children’s & Young Adult Prize for her middle grade book book Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths (Piccadilly Press) recommends five books that influenced her as a person and writer.



The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


I loved this book so much that I did my B.A. dissertation on it! I didn't grow up with a Chinese mother in my life, so I was fascinated by the prospect of what that relationship might have been like if I had and this book was all about the mother-daughter relationship. It was one of the few books I'd read with a myriad of Chinese diaspora characters. I remember crying whilst reading it and also later when I watched the film by Wayne Wang. I think it's one of the first books I read where I realised how much representation mattered.


Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

I read this book with a lump in my throat and a heavy stone-like feeling in my chest. The book is narrated by a black boy who was shot by a policeman, his ghost seeks justice and answers. It's a book that makes you question things, feel anger, and have empathy. It's a brilliant and important book about black lives, police brutality, and about young lives taken too soon.


Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu


This is one of my favourite books. A.M. Dassu put her heart into this book. The detail and care that has been taken to chart the journey of a Syrian boy's life from his home country to the stark reality of a somewhat hostile Britain. It's well researched and beautifully written. One of the best things about the book is the sense that this could happen to anyone. Anyone in the world could become a refugee at some point in their lives.


Cicada by Shaun Tan


This is a picture book but for all ages. It's a clever and also sad book (with a hopeful ending) that follows the life of a cicada who works everyday in a thankless office job where he is underappreciated and dispensable. I love the illustrations and the allegory about human existence. I think Shaun Tan is an immense talent and the power of pictures can be seen clearly in all of his work. What I appreciate with this book is that children and adults can both enjoy and understand this book and what it's trying to say.


The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson


Catherine Johnson is such a good writer! This novel is brilliant. It's historical so you learn something new about people of colour in England in the 1800s. It's full of intrigue and action. Is Princess Caraboo who she says she is? It's a great example of how you can push the boundaries of what young adult fiction is. It was one of the first YA books I read when I was starting to think about becoming a children's author and it made me realise how much variety there is out there for children and teens which was not the case when I was a child.


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