Fatima Bhutto selects five of her favourite novels set against a backdrop of conflict…
Books about conflict zones don’t make for light reading. You would be forgiven for not taking one of these to the dentist or the park on a sunny day. But you’d be missing out on some incredible books. Chinua Achebe once said “Clearly, there’s no moral obligation to write in any particular way. But there is a moral obligation, I think, not to ally oneself with power against the powerless. I think an artist, in my definition of that word, would not be someone who takes sides with the emperor against his powerless subjects.” The following five are written by such artists and are among my favourite books set in conflict zones. The writing is elegant, tender, and necessary.
The Feast of the Goat, Mario Vargas Llosa
Set during the assassination of the real life Dominican Republic dictator General Rafael Trujillo, Llosa’s novel treads gently between fiction and non-fiction. Gripping, moving, and terrifying but Llosa also brings light and imagination to characters otherwise hidden behind headlines.
Shah of Shahs, Rsyzard Kapucinski
No one writes like Kapucinski, no journalist since has as lyrical a voice or as free a form. Writing about the fall of the Shah of Iran, Kapuncinski observes revolution and power from the fringes. This slim volume is essential reading for anyone who wishes newspapers had more heart and commentators more brains.
The Watch, Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya
An elegiac modern day re-telling of Antigone. Bhattacharya’s novel is set around an American military base in Afghanistan on the day a woman comes to seek her brother’s body so that she may bury him. The perspective shifts throughout the novel, but each gaze is tightly presented and beautifully told. It’s the best novel about post-invasion Afghanistan that I’ve come across.
Dreaming of Baghdad, Haifa Zangana
This memoir, of Zangana’s time in prison, in exile, and Iraq’s struggles against Saddam and the war that unseated him is, a powerful but disturbing read. Zangana’s book is a testament to the importance of bearing witness and movingly describes the way women fight subjugation in its many forms.
This bilingual anthology of Arabic poems brings together three legends – Samih al Qasim, Adonis, and Mahmoud Darwish – writing about Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. It is impossible to know anything of the Middle East and of hope without reading its poetry.
Fatima Bhutto for Waterstones.com/blog
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