This compilation by diverse writers lends nuanced insight into the complicated, volatile Middle East.
Inspired by panels on the Middle East held at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival, this timely collection of 15 essays, edited by lawyer and human rights activist Shehadeh (Language of War, Language of Peace, 2015, etc.) and academic Johnson (Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home, 2012, etc.), provides both a historical perspective on the region and a spotlight on the current crises—e.g., how Syrian street art helped ignite a revolution, as described by London author Malu Halasa. While Avi Shlaim offers an elucidating overview of the lack of territorial and political legitimacy imparted by the post–World War I peace settlement, sociology scholar Salim Tamari analyzes diaries by World War I soldiers on the Ottoman side whose writings reflect the shift from Ottoman loyalties to a sense of Arab national identity. Other essayists try to make sense of the reigning states of chaos and despair: in Egypt, historian Khaled Fahmy bemoans the post–Arab Spring lack of any “imagined golden age in which we can claim we shaped our destiny and to which we want to return”; Iranian-British journalist Ramita Navai looks at how the entrenched “culture of victimhood” by the Iranian Shia underdog is spurring a new desire to “come in from the cold” through nuclear deals with the U.S.; and Alev Scott believes the civic courage of Turkish youth will prevail in President Recep Erdogan’s oppressive state. In her unique essay on living and writing in Kuwait, novelist Mai al-Nakib uses fiction to revisit the “forgotten or stifled cosmopolitanism” in her country.
An accessible collection in which the editors and the contributors don’t shirk from delivering necessary criticism but offer possibilities of hope for a troubled region.