About the Middle East: Best Reads and Films

Holiday season is already upon us, and as many of us are looking for a good read or a film to occupy us on our travels, I thought it was a fitting time to share some of the best reads and films about the Middle East…

Books

Arabian Sands – Wilfred Thesiger
Possibly one of the most well-known books about the Middle East and with plenty of tales from Abu Dhabi and Al Ain themselves, the book focuses on explorer Thesiger’s time between 1945-49 crossing the Empty Quarter (not once, but twice!) and living with, and as one of the Bedu people. A fascinating account with incredible photography of a different way of life and an unimaginable journey. A fascinating insight into the traditional Bedouin way of life.

Brilliant – Denise Roig
A collection of short stories set in Abu Dhabi, based on her observations with facts and fictions from Denise’s time living in the Capital. 

The Kite Runner
An amazing book that was later turned into a film, and again quite well-known. Not only an interesting account of a young boy and his friendships growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan along with the cultural, political and historical context of the overthrowing of the then Shah, but also a very moving account of the relationships between the characters and attempted atonement for past mistakes.
On being published in 2003, the book became a New York Times bestseller for over two years.

Princess Trilogy – Jean Sasson
I heard about these books in the first few days after I moved to Dubai in 2006 and I think I’d read all three in the space of that first week, so compelling was the reading. Princess is the first in the series, followed by Daughters of Arabia and the third book, Desert Royal. I believe these books may have different titles in different countries though, looking directly at the author’s website. Jean Sasson is an American woman who grew up in the states but moved to Saudi Arabia to work in the early 1980s. Princess begins by describing the true life of Princess Sultana, a princess from the royal house of Saudi Arabia and her lack of freedoms. It makes for an eye-popping and incredibly gripping read, as do the following two in the trilogy also.
Sasson has also written a number of other books in a similar vein – Mayada, Daughter of Iraq was another I particularly enjoyed about a prominent Iraqi journalist’s prison experiences after being jailed under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Explorer Guides
If you’re new to the UAE or thinking about moving here, you can’t go wrong with any of the books from Explorer Publishing. Not exactly light reading (although there are also plenty of coffee table books with some fab photography of the region), if you want to know where to find things, how to set things up and get stuff done as well as where (and how) to go off-road and so much more, these are books you need.
Titles include residents and visitors guides to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Ultimate Explorer, Short Breaks from the UAE, UAE and Oman Off-Road guides, business guides, red tape guides for getting daily necessities and set up done and so much more. Check out their range online here, or find them in most bookshops and supermarkets around the UAE.

Films

Lawrence of Arabia
Perhaps the most globally renowned account of T.E Lawrence’s experiences in the Arabian Peninsula during World War 1 and widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films of all time. One to watch for a number of reasons, including the historical aspect.

Theeb
The film is set in the 1916 Arabian Desert and follows the story of a Bedouin boy who leaves the safety of his tribe to set out on a  journey of survival across Wadi Rum during World War One and the dawn of the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

Ajami
An Arabic movie with English subtitles, Ajami follows five stories of everyday life in Ajami, the mixed community of Muslims and Christians in Tel Aviv. Painting a moving portrait of the contrasts and conflicts and the effects on the everyday lives of the people in the region. Previously announced as an Oscar nominee for best foreign film, this film has received numerous accolades.

If you’re looking for something a bit lighter to watch with great scenery of some very familiar sights for those who live in the region, check out the Fast and the Furious 7 on DVD – a great deal of it was filmed here in Abu Dhabi.

Continuing in the same vein, there’s also the most recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens too that you can catch up on if you’ve managed to miss it so far, though although it features many beautiful Abu Dhabi desertscapes, there aren’t landmarks in the film you’d recognise.

The 2007 film The Kingdom also makes for an action-filled and interesting watch about a terrorist attack on a housing compound in Saudi Arabia. Starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, it’s as you’d expect from Hollywood – a big budget action drama with its roots purely in entertainment, not in facts.

There are so many more incredible books and films out there about the Middle East – any more recommendations are welcome, I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments below.

Let me know your thoughts and comments here!

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