Historical Novels of the Middle East

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Camels, photograph by Jordan Busson Jump to:

The Arabian Peninsula
Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon
Turkey and the Ottoman Empire
Mesopotamia and Afghanistan
Persia
Mysteries set in the Middle East


Of the historical novels set in the Middle East, only a few represent primarily the viewpoints of natives. Among those which do are novels by distinguished authors such as British-Pakistani journalist Tariq Ali, Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, and Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, winner of a 1993 Prix Goncourt. Middle Eastern cultures are more varied than many Westerners realize, and historical novels reflect that richness.

For novels set during Biblical times, see the Ancient History page. For novels about the Crusades which reflect primarily the viewpoints of European Crusaders (most of whom had little understanding of Arabic culture and considered the Islamic religion to be reprehensible) see the Crusades page. In general, novels reflecting a European or American perspective are listed on other pages, so if you don't see what you want here, try looking under the time and place of the main character's homeland.


The Arabian Peninsula

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Raja Alem and Tom McDonough, My Thousand and One Nights, a literary historical fantasy about an Arabian woman and a dervish, set in late medieval Mecca.

Abdulaziz al-Mahmoud, The Holy Sail (2014 in the original Arabic, first English edition 2015), about fifteenth-century Lisbon, Cairo, Jeddah, and Istanbul, and a girl who marries an Arabic tribal leader.

Radwa Ashour, Siraaj (1992 in the original Arabic; 2007 in English), about a mother and son drawn into a nineteenth-century revolt on a fictional island off the coast of Yemen.

Aisha Bilal, Arabian Knights, Volume 1 (2013), a collection of short stories and fables about famous and not-so-famous Arabian historical figures; self-published.

Aisha Bilal, Arabian Knights, Volume 2 (2013), a collection of short stories and fables about famous and not-so-famous Arabian historical figures; self-published.

John Elray, Khalifah: A Novel of Conquest and Personal Triumph (2002), about a forced convert to Islam, the son of an enemy of Muhammed, who embarks on a quest for power within the Islamic movement during the decades after Muhammed's death.

Sherry Jones, The Jewel of Medina (2008), about A'isha, the youngest and most beloved wife of the Prophet Muhammad. Review

Ghalib Lakhnavi & Abdullah Bilgrami, The Adventures of Amir Hamza (in English, 2007), a saga dating back to as early as the seventh century, about an uncle of the Prophet Muhammed; new translation into English by Musharraf Ali Farooqi.

Nadifa Mohamed, Black Mamba Boy (2010), about a ten-year-old slum boy who in 1935 sets off from Aden in search of his father and journeys through Africa, Palestine and Britain amid the upheavals of war. Review at The Independent

Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of Salt, about the effects on an unspecified Middle Eastern country of Americans looking for oil beginning in the 1930s.

Kamran Pasha, Mother of the Believers (2009), about Aisha, the favorite wife of the Prophet Muhammad, and the early years of Islam. Review



Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon

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Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin (2010), about a Palestinian family forced out of their home village and into a refugee camp in 1948 when the state of Israel is created.

Rabih Alameddine, The Hakawati, about the stories from the Middle East, present and past, that a dying man in Beirut tells to his son.

Tariq Ali, The Book of Saladin, about Salah al-Din, the Kurdish warrior and sultan who reconquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. Review

Yehoash Biber, Adventures in the Galilee (1973), a collection of ten short stories set in northern Israel before 1948, about Arab, Druse and Jewish farmers and Bedouins living as peaceful neighbors.

Sarah Bryant, The Sand Daughter (2009), about a young Bedouin woman during the Crusades in the Middle East.

Talia Carner, Jerusalem Maiden (2011), about a young Orthodox Jewish woman in Jerusalem in 1911 who dreams of studying art in Paris until tragedy comes to her family.

Richard Field, The Swords of Faith (2010), about the war for control of Jerusalem between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade, beginning with the Battle of Hattin.

Noah Gordon, The Jerusalem Diamond (1979), about a modern dealer in diamonds who travels to Jerusalem in quest of a diamond whose past is part of the history of the Jewish people.

Emile Habiby (also spelled Emil or Imil Habibi), The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist, a tragicomic novel about a hapless Palestinian who remains in Israel after its creation and becomes an informer for the state.


Jack Hight, Eagle (2011), about the boyhood and young manhood of the future leader Saladin, taught the arts of war by his young Saxon slave; #1 in the Saladin trilogy.

Jack Hight, Kingdom (2012), about Saladin's travels in Egypt, where he is surrounded by enemies; #2 in the Saladin trilogy.

Jack Hight, Holy War (2013), about Saladin's recapture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders; #3 in the Saladin trilogy.


Alon Hilu, The House of Dajani (original Hebrew edition 2008; English edition 2010), about a Palestinian boy in 1895 with visions of a disaster about to befall his people, whose friendship with a Jewish man leads to tragedy.

Yoram Katz, The Kabbalist (2013), about a thirteen-century Jewish refugee escaping the doomed Crusaders' Kingdom of Jerusalem who acquires two ancient scrolls, and a present-day Frenchwoman who travels to Israel in pursuit of these scrolls; self-published.

Dave Longeuay, Rebirth (2011), about a young American who leaves his father's anti-Semitic company and goes to Palestine at the end of World War II.

Amin Maalouf, Balthasar’s Odyssey, about a Levantine merchant in 1666 and his search for a mystical book said to contain the hundredth name of God.

Amin Maalouf, The Rock of Tanios, about the disappearance of a Lebanese child during the late nineteenth century period of political struggle over the Ottoman Empire.

Kanan Makiya, The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem (2002), about the building of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock by Jews, Christians and Muslims in a time when the distinctions between Islam and Judaism were still blurred.

Sélim Nassib, The Palestinian Lover (1992), about the love affair future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier has with a wealthy Palestinian banker's son in the 1920s.

Kamran Pasha, Shadow of the Swords (2010), about Saladin and Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade and the beautiful Jewish woman with whom both men fall in love. Review

Yael Politis, The Lonely Tree (2012), about a young woman who has grown up on a kibbutz and dreams of emigrating to America, where life will be safer, even though it means she will have to part from the man she loves.

Meir Shalev, The Blue Mountain (1988; also titled Russian Romance), about an orphan raised by his grandfather on a kibbutz in the early twentieth century, who becomes a mortician and reflects on the people he has buried through the years.

Leon Uris, Exodus, about the creation of Israel after World War II.

Leon Uris, The Haj (1984), about Palestinians during the early to mid-twentieth century; has been criticized as a stereotyped and largely negative portrayal.

Herman Wouk, The Hope, about the Arab-Israeli wars, beginning with the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

Sarit Yishai-Levi, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem (2016), about four generations of women in Jerusalem and the secrets they keep from their daughters.



Turkey and the Ottoman Empire

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Tariq Ali, The Stone Woman (2000), about a wealthy Istanbul family in the summer of 1899 as the Ottoman Empire decays.

Barbara Chase-Riboud, Valide: A Novel of the Harem (1986), about harem women in the Ottoman Empire.

Louis de Bernieres, Birds Without Wings (2004), about life in a small Turkish village at the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Colin Falconer, The Sultan's Harem (2005), about a Tartar girl sold into slavery in the harem of Suleyman the Magnificent, who plots the downfall of her rivals in the harem and gains power by manipulating the sultan.

Cornelia Golna, City of Man's Desire (2004), about five individuals in Constantinople in 1908 as the upheavals of the Young Turk Revolution change the city.

C.C. Humphreys, A Place Called Armageddon (2011), about Mehmet II, the Turkish sultan who conquered Constantinople in 1453.

Mor (or Maurus) Jokai, The Lion of Janina: The Last Days of the Janissaries (1854), about Ali Pasha of Janina, an Albanian brigand who rose to power under the Ottoman Turks.

Ismail Kadare, The Siege (1970), a literary novel about a Christian citadel in fifteenth century Albania and its defiance of the army of the Ottoman Turks and their inevitable conquest; awarded the first Man Booker International Prize.

Ismail Kadare, The Fall of the Stone City (2012), about a physician in the Albanian town of Gjirokaster who meets with an old friend, now a Nazi officer, in 1943 as the Nazis prepare to invade the town. Review at The Independent

Solmaz Kamuran, Kiraze (2014), about a Jewish woman in sixteenth-century Ottoman Turkey who works as an intermediary between the women of the sultan's harem and the outside world.

Frances Kazan, Halide's Gift (2001), about a young woman whose father, an official in the sultan's court in Ottoman Turkey, encourages her to strive for an education.

Frances Kazan, The Dervish (2013), about a young widow who joins her sister, married to an American consul, in Istanbul in 1919 on the eve of Mustafa Kemal's struggle for Turkish independence; sequel to Halide's Gift. Review

Michael David Lukas, The Oracle of Stamboul (2011), about a child who stows away on her father's merchant ship when it leaves for Stamboul, where she charms the Sultan and changes the course of the Ottoman Empire.

Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red, a literary novel set in sixteenth century Istanbul about the disappearance of an artist involved in the Sultan's project to illustrate a book with representational artwork forbidden by Islam.

Orhan Pamuk, The White Castle, a surrealistic literary novel about a seventeenth century Italian scholar who becomes the slave of a scholar in Constantinople.

Margaret Redfern, The Storyteller's Granddaughter (2014), about a girl and her horse who set out from Anatolia in 1336 and journey to Europe in search of a myth.

Lawrence Schoonover, Gentle Infidel (1950), about a young member of the Turkish emperor's Janissaries and the two very different women he loves, one a seductive, married Turkish woman, the other a Venetian Christian.

Elif Shafak, The Architect’s Apprentice (2015), about a boy whose work as an elephant keeper leads him to employment as an apprentice to the Ottoman sultan's chief architect in sixteenth-century Istanbul.

Barry Unsworth, Pascali’s Island (1980), about a Turkish spy on a small Greek island during the decline of the Ottoman Empire.



Mesopotamia and Afghanistan

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Justin Allen, Slaves of the Shinar (2007), about a fictional war in ancient Sumer waged by the legendary Nephilim people.

Maggie Anton, Apprentice (2012), about the youngest daughter of the third-century Babylonian Jewish scholar Rav Hisda and her aspiration to become a sorceress; #2 in the Rav Hisda's Daughter series.

Maggie Anton, Enchantress (2014), about a rabbi's daughter in Babylonia who practices sorcery; #2 in the Rav Hisda's Daughter series.

Gillian Bradshaw, Horses of Heaven, about a spiritually gifted woman forced into a political marriage with the ruler of Ferghana (now Afghanistan) in the second century B.C.

Wallace Breem, The Leopard and the Cliff, about the 1919 British war in Afghanistan.

Marek Halter, The Wind of the Khazars, about a modern novelist challenged to find a subject worth writing about and a pair of tenth century lovers in Khazaria, the ancient Jewish nation in the southern Caucasus.

Anne Hart, Adventures in My Beloved Medieval Alania and Beyond (2009), about the migrations and travel of the tenth-century Kagan of Khazaria and his family; self-published.

Linda Holeman, The Moonlit Cage, about an abused Afghan wife who flees to India and then London in the nineteenth century.

Howard Andrew Jones, The Desert of Souls (2011), historical adventure fantasy about a swordsman and a scholar in ninth-century Baghdad sent into the desert on a hazardous mission to recover a priceless golden artifact. Review or Author Interview

Howard Andrew Jones, The Bones of the Old Ones (2013), historical adventure fantasy about a swordsman and a scholar whose comfortable lives in Mosul are interrupted by a woman begging their protection from a shape-shifting sorcerer; sequel to The Desert of Souls.

Howard Andrew Jones, The Waters of Eternity (2011), a collection of adventure stories featuring the characters in The Desert of Souls.

Monroe S. Kuttner, The Rabbi King: David of Khazaria (2001), about a fictional leader of the Jewish kingdom of Khazaria in its waning days during the twelfth century; self-published.

Amin Maalouf, The Gardens of Light, about the third century Mesopotamian artist, doctor and prophet Mani, whose philosophy in a distorted form came to be known as Manichaeism.

Barry Unsworth, Land of Marvels (2009), about a British archaeologist, his wife, a handsome American geologist and an Arab con man in Mesopotamia in 1914 during the last days of the Ottoman Empire and the early days of the Western quest for oil. Review



Persia

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Kader Abdolah, The King (2014), about Shah Naser, who comes to the throne of Persia in 1848 and struggles with pressures to modernize.

Anita Amirrezvani, The Blood of Flowers (2007), about a young woman in seventeenth century Persia forced to become a carpet weaver after her father dies.

Anita Amirrezvani, Equal of the Sun (2012), about Princess Pari, who makes a dangerous choice when her father, the shah, dies in 1576 without naming an heir, and her despotic brother assumes the throne.

Omid Banyasad, The Deserter of Alamut (2013), about a young shepherd who joins the fighters at Alamut in order to avenge the kidnapping of his bride-to-be on their wedding day; self-published.

Vladimir Bartol, Alamut (1938), about Hasan Sabbah, an eleventh century warlord who converted young men into fearless assassins by tricking them into believing he held the key to Paradise. Review


James Boschert, Assassins of Alamut (2010), about a Frankish boy captured and trained as a Hashshashin assassin who falls in love with a Persian princess; #1 in the Book of Talon trilogy.

James Boschert, Knight Assassin (2010), about a Frank trained as a Hashshashin who returns to his homeland to find that his family estate is threatened and he may have to revive his skills as an assassin to save it; #2 in the Book of Talon trilogy.

James Boschert, Assassination in Al-Qahirah (2012), about a Frank trained as a Hashshashin who is shipwrecked in Egypt while on his way to serve as a Templar Knight in Palestine; #3 in the Book of Talon trilogy.


Andrew James, Blood of Kings (2013), about the dispossessed prince Darius (later to become Darius the Great), the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great, and Persia's war against Egypt.

C.J. Kirwin, Dawn of the Greatest Persian: The Childhood of Cyrus the Great, a novel about the childhood of Cyrus the Great which attempts to reconcile differing accounts of the Persian emperor's life story; #1 in a planned trilogy; self-published.

C.J. Kirwin, Finding the Persian Way: Cyrus the Great Travels in Ancient Persia, a novel about the childhood of Cyrus the Great which attempts to reconcile differing accounts of the Persian emperor's life story; #2 in a planned trilogy; self-published.

Amin Maalouf, Samarkand, about the eleventh century Persian poet Omar Khayyam.

Scott Oden, The Lion of Cairo (2010), about an assassin from the Persian fortress of Alamut sent to Cairo to prevent the fall of its young caliph; #1 in a planned trilogy. Review or Author Interview

Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love (2010), a dual-time novel about the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi, and an unhappily married modern woman reading a manuscript about Rumi which transforms her life.

Judith Tarr, Alamut (1989), historical fantasy about an immortal prince who travels to the Middle East during the time of the Crusades and becomes involved in a vendetta against the Assassins of Alamut.


Mysteries Set in the Middle East

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Alum Bati, Harem Secrets (2008), about an official in the Ottoman Empire who investigates a death in the Imperial Harem in 1530 Istanbul.


Jason Goodwin, The Janissary Tree (2006), a literary mystery about a Turkish eunuch who is a detective and must track down a serial killer whose murders threaten to disrupt the Sultan's plan to modernize the Ottoman Empire in 1936; #1 in the Investigator Yashim series.

Jason Goodwin, The Snake Stone (2009), a literary mystery about a Turkish eunuch who is a detective, but becomes the chief suspect in the murder of an archaeologist in 1830s Istanbul; #2 in the Investigator Yashim series.

Jason Goodwin, The Bellini Card (2009), a literary mystery about a Turkish eunuch in nineteenth century Istanbul assigned to track down a missing Bellini portrait of Mehmed the Conqueror which may have resurfaced in Venice; #3 in the Investigator Yashim series. Review

Jason Goodwin, An Evil Eye (2011), a literary mystery about a Turkish eunuch who investigates the murder of a man whose body is discovered in the cistern of a Christian monastery in Istanbul; #4 in the Investigator Yashim series. Review at The Independent

Jason Goodwin, The Baklava Club (2014), a literary mystery about a Turkish eunuch who must find a Polish prince kidnapped by Italian exiles in Istanbul; #5 in the Investigator Yashim series.


Andrew Killeen, The Father of Locks (2009), a literary thriller, set in eighth-century Baghdad during the rule of Harun al-Rashid, in which a thief and a poet join forces to find out why children in the city have been disappearing.

Andrew Killeen, The Seven Voyages of Abu Nuwas (forthcoming in April 2010), a literary thriller set in eighth-century Baghdad in which a former thief, now a storyteller, tries to help his old friend, a noted poet, find out who is trying to kill him; sequel to The Father of Locks.

Jenny White, The Sultan's Seal (2006), about a magistrate in the Ottoman Empire's new secular court system in 1886 and his investigation of the murder of an Englishman, which may be connected to the murder of the governess for the imperial harem; #1 in the Kamil Pasha mystery series.

Jenny White, The Abyssinian Proof (2008), about a special investigator for the sultan of the Ottoman Empire who is investigating thefts of antiquities when he discovers a long-lost silver reliquary from medieval Constantinople that some will stop at nothing to obtain; #2 in the Kamil Pasha mystery series.

Jenny White, The Winter Thief (2010), about a special investigator for the sultan of the Ottoman Empire who is framed for murder by the head of the sultan's secret police; #3 in the Kamil Pasha mystery series.


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