writer & editor

Stories from the Center of the World

Stories from the Center of the World: bookcover

One of The Millions Most Anticipated Books for Spring!

Featured in Alta Magazine’s New Books for May!

Short stories from 25 emerging and established writers of Middle Eastern and North African origins, a unique collection of voices and viewpoints that illuminate life in the global Arab/Muslim world.

“Provocative and subtle, nuanced and surprising, these stories demonstrate how this complicated and rich region might best be approached–through the power of literature.”–Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Committed

Stories from the Center of the World gathers new writing from the greater Middle East (or SWANA), a vast region that stretches from Southwest Asia, through the Middle East and Turkey, and across Northern Africa. The 25 authors included here come from a wide range of cultures and countries, including Palestine, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, and Morocco, to name some.

In “Asha and Haaji,” Hanif Kureishi takes up the cause of outsiders who become uprooted when war or disaster strikes and they flee for safe haven. In Nektaria Anastasiadou‘s “The Location of the Soul According to Benyamin Alhadeff,” two students in Istanbul from different classes — and religions that have often been at odds with one another — believe they can overcome all obstacles. MK Harb‘s story, “Counter Strike,” is about queer love among Beiruti adolescents; and Salar Abdoh‘s “The Long Walk of the Martyrs” invites us into the world of former militants, fighters who fought ISIS or Daesh in Iraq and Syria, who are having a hard time readjusting to civilian life. In “Eleazar,” Karim Kattan tells an unexpected Palestinian story in which the usual antagonists — Israeli occupation forces — are mostly absent, while another malevolent force seems to overtake an unsuspecting family. Omar El Akkad‘s “The Icarist” is a coming-of-age story about the underworld in which illegal immigrants are forced to live, and what happens when one dares to break away.

A cynical matchmaker befuddled by a persistent client. A street cleaner whose love for two very different men will have political repercussions. A frustrated writer who makes a literal deal with the devil—or does he? These and other indelible characters people these 25 remarkable stories from the greater Middle East, “the center of the world, where recorded civilization got its start over 7,000 years ago.” The tales are diverse in origin, genre, and tone, juxtaposing sf, romance, and suspense with family tragedy, farce, and mordant humor. Whether personifying the chaos of the Israeli occupation of Palestine as actual madness or poking fun at the remnants of British colonialism in Egypt, many of the stories confound common stereotypes about the region. There’s the tentative romance between two gay teens in Beirut, who connect through video games, and the village runaway turned call girl. The most tantalizing surprise is a futuristic tale of a “cosmic courier” on the run, piloting her craft through asteroid belts while befriending an alien whose peaceful farm reminds her of life on her family olive grove in Lebanon. A deeply satisfying collection showcasing an array of brilliant writers who deserve to be better known.

— Lesley Williams

Contributors include: Salar Abdoh, Leila Aboulela, Farah Ahamed, Omar El Akkad, Sarah AlKahly-Mills, Nektaria Anastasiadou, Amany Kamal Eldin, Jordan Elgrably, Omar Foda, May Haddad, Danial Haghighi, Malu Halasa, MK Harb, Alireza Iranmehr, Karim Kattan, Hanif Kureishi, Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi, Diary Marif, Tariq Mehmood, Sahar Mustafah, Mohammed Al-Naas, Ahmed Naji, Mai Al-Nakib, Abdellah Taia, and Natasha Tynes