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10

novels set in Qatar

Reading around the world has become a popular challenge during the pandemic. Using literature to travel to new places, during a time where we are confined in our own homes and unable to travel physically, allows us to fall in love with unfamiliar destinations. For those curious about travelling to Qatar through the medium of literature, here are some suggestions for your to-read pile.

The Corsair

by Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud

One of Qatar’s best-loved contemporary fiction writers, Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud deftly weaves together fiction and reality in his debut novel The Corsair, which became an instant classic and garnered Al-Mahmoud a wealth of critical acclaim. The Corsair tells the story of Erhama bin Jaber, a notorious figure in Qatari maritime history, who challenged the activities of the British and the East India Company in the Gulf. The Corsair is a novel which weaves together political intrigue and history with themes of anti-imperialism, it is much-loved in Qatar and across the world.

The Dohmestics

by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

After moving to Doha, Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar fell in love with her new home country and her many novels reflect her love for Qatar. Despite this love, which radiates from the pages of all of her novels, she doesn’t shy away from being critical of elements of Qatari society and culture. In The Dohmestics, Rajakumar skilfully explores the relationship between the domestic servants living in the same apartment block as their employers, and the differences in their day to day lives.

The Girl Who Fell To Earth

by Sophia Al-Maria

Part story and part memoir, The Girl Who Fell To Earth is the story of a young woman of Qatari-American descent, who lives in Washington State in the US, only to be sent off to live with the Bedouin members of her family in Qatar. What follows is a touching coming of age story which spans the Gulf region as the protagonist goes on a journey of self-discovery, as she learns to live between two different cultures and outlooks on life.

Infomocracy

by Malka Older

Infomocracy is a steampunk thriller, and the first book in a series called The Centenal Cycle. Widely acclaimed, the novel was considered to be one the best debut novels of 2016. Set across a variety of locations, Doha features alongside Tokyo and Paris in a story which explores a dystopian future in which information is both a currency and a sinister villain.

Florence of Arabia

by Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley’s novel isn’t just a twist on ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, it’s a deeply satirical novel which pokes fun at the main character Florence, a white woman who decides to move to the Middle East in order to bring emancipation to the women of the region. Florence in Arabia pokes fun at both the restrictive elements of life for women in the Gulf, and the ways in which culture in countries like Qatar is misunderstood by outsiders from the West.

The Holy Sail

by Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud

Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud’s second novel was hotly anticipated, given the runaway success of The Corsair. The Holy Sail weaves together all of the historical elements which made Al-Mahmoud’s first novel so popular, telling the story of a young woman who falls in love with a tribal leader. The novel is set against the backdrop of the struggle between the Portuguese and the Arab world during the medieval period.

Kapitoil

by Teddy Wayne

Set between Qatar and New York City, Kapitoil tells the story of a young Qatari man Karim Issar, who arrives in New York and works on a project which allows his superiors to predict and capitalise on the trends of the oil industry. The book explores the ways in which young emigrating Qataris are shaped by the cultures of their new homes, echoing the themes of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Love from A to Z

by S.K. Ali

Love from A to Z is a coming of age story, and a love story, but it is also so much more. The novel tells the story of Adam and Zayneb, who are brought together by chance. Zayneb is a young Muslim woman of Qatari descent struggling with her identity between two cultures, and Adam is a young man wrestling with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. What follows is a bittersweet story about growing up and finding your way in the world.

Love Comes Later

by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Set in both Qatar and London, this novel by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is one which explores the thorny issues of love and arranged marriage. The book explores the pressures on young Qataris to marry young, as well as themes of independence and grief. The story follows Sangita and Abdullah, two young people who fall in love despite the fact that Abdullah is engaged to Sangita’s flatmate, his cousin Hind.

Passage to Truth

by Shu’a’ Khalifa

Passage to Truth was written in 1987, but was not published until 1990, alongside Khalifa’s second book. Her novels focus on the theme of Qatari society, both past and present, and the sense of nostalgia in Qatari society for the Qatar that existed before modernisation and the advent of the oil era.


Illustrations: Khadia Ulumbekova

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