Talking Location With author Leigh Russell – YORK
Ten Great Books set in the UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
22nd December 2020
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the latest destination for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in the United Arab Emirates. From the glitz of Dubai, to the incredible Sheik Zahir Mosque in Abu Dhabi, to luxury desert retreats with dunes as far as the eye can see, there is much to behold in this amazing country.
‘Hair loss from the moustache falls over the beard’ – Emirati proverb (meaning ‘If misfortune falls upon a family member, it affects the entire family’)
Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati – DUBAI
Oozing with men, money, and Maseratis, Dubai is the ultimate playground for the woman who knows her Louboutins from her Louis Vuittons.
But for some, there’s a lot more at stake than a Hermes Birkin. Leila has been in search of a wealthy husband for over a decade. Nadia moves to Dubai to support her husband’s career, only to have her sacrifices thrown in her face. Sugar escapes the UK in an attempt to escape her past. Lady Luxe, the rebellious Emirati heiress, scoffs at everything her culture holds sacred. Until the day her double life starts unravelling at the seams. Set against a backdrop of luxury hotels and manmade islands, Desperate in Dubai tells the tale of four desperate women as they struggle to find truth, love, and themselves.
Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights by Jillian Schedneck – ABU DHABI
When Jillian Schedneck takes up a position teaching English to a classroom of UAE students in Abu Dhabi, she is young, idealistic, in love, and ready to take on the world. But it is not exactly what she anticipated: her mostly female students are only attending university as a token distraction from what will become a life spent attending to domestic duties, and Jillian struggles with the limitations to their futures that they seem to so readily accept.
Facing the contradicting culture of extreme wealth and luxury, but little real opportunity, Jillian finds herself deeply intrigued by the women of the UAE. As she negotiates her way around classrooms of unlikely students, they start to come alive as Jillian introduces them to writers such as Virginia Woolf, and poses questions about feminism. But she is not only opening up a new world to them. She also finds her own cultural assumptions being challenged, and begins to realise how much her time in these desert cities have shaped the woman she will become.
Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson – UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
This is a compelling and bewitching first novel, perfect for book groups, that mixes old world magic with modern adventure. Welcome to the Empty Quarter, the domain of Djinn, ghouls, demons and the effrit who take the shapes of beasts. You used to walk among us, and we among you. Now things are different. Now we are Unseen. Alif is a half-Arab, half-Indian, 23-year-old hacker working in the Arab Emirates. His job is to provide security to enemies of the Arab states, ranging from pornographers to militant Islamists. Alif has fallen in love with the beguiling Intisar, an aristocratic woman he meets online. But their budding love affair is cruelly ended when her father arranges a marriage for her with a man of her class…A man who turns out to be the state’s leading censor, a shadowy and powerful figure known only as ‘the Hand’. As their final communication, Intisar sends the heartbroken Alif a mysterious old book. Bound in what looks like human skin, and titled “The Thousand and One Days”, Alif soon realizes that this token of affection is actually a dangerous source of old world magic. And as the keeper of this amulet – this Djinn-penned tome of secrets – Alif is about to become a wanted fugitive from both the corporeal and the celestial worlds…
Dubai Wives by Zvezdana Rashkovich – DUBAI
Dubai Wives follows eight women as their lives come together at poignant intervals.
We meet Jewel, a beautiful but frustrated wife to her powerful Emirati husband, Tara, a devout Muslim with a passionate secret, and Liliana, a tragic dancer in the seedy clubs of Dubai. A stirring tale encompassing tradition, identity, and faith, Dubai Wives takes the reader into a hidden world behind the walls of lavish mansions and into the desperate back alleys of Dubai: from the hills of Morocco to the gloomy English countryside and from the slums of India to the glittering lights of the Burj Al Arab.
Zvezdana Rashkovich presents an absorbing picture of the secret life of Dubai’s residents, underscoring its intense glamour with emptiness and duplicity. Rashkovich examines the universal questions of identity, religion, race, and social status against the backdrop of Dubai’s cultural dynamism and traditional moral code. With its exotic setting, distinct characters, and captivating plot, Dubai Wives takes readers on a journey of friendship, love, betrayal and murder revealing a city where no one is who they seem to be… and where everything is possible.
The Dog by Joseph O’Neill – DUBAI
The new novel from Joseph O’Neill, his first since the Man Booker longlisted and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction-winning ‘Netherland’.
In 2007, a New York attorney bumps into an old college buddy – and accepts his friend’s offer of a job in Dubai, as the overseer of an enormous family fortune. Haunted by the collapse of his relationship and hoping for a fresh start, our strange hero begins to suspect that he has exchanged one inferno for another.
A funny and wholly original work of international literature, ‘The Dog’ is led by a brilliantly entertaining anti-hero. Imprisoned by his endless powers of reasoning, hemmed in by the ethical demands of globalized life, he is fatefully drawn towards the only logical response to our confounding epoch.
From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al Fahim – ADU DHABI
Born in 1948 in Abu Dhabi, the author knew dreadful poverty in the years before fabulous oil wealth transformed his country forever. He grew up in the ruler’s palace, barefoot like his friends, who are all now senior figures in the United Arab Emirates. This is a vivid eye-witness account of the total transformation (within only 30 years) of a Bedouin society into a country with the world’s highest per capita income. Al-Fahim speaks with great frankness about his own life and provides remarkable insights into the workings of the business community and the ruling elite with the UAE.
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan – ABU DHABI, DUBAI
In the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. Brought in to construct the towering monuments to wealth that punctuate the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force works without the rights of citizenship, endures miserable living conditions, and is ultimately forced to leave the country. Until now, the humanitarian crisis of the so-called guest workers of the Gulf has barely been addressed in fiction. With his stunning, mind-altering debut novel Temporary People, Deepak Unnikrishnan delves into their histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs.
Combining the irrepressible linguistic invention of Salman Rushdie and the satirical vision of George Saunders, Unnikrishnan presents twenty-eight linked stories that careen from construction workers who shapeshift into luggage and escape a labor camp, to a woman who stitches back together the bodies of those who ve fallen from buildings in progress, to a man who grows ideal workers designed to live twelve years and then perish until they don t, and found a rebel community in the desert. With this polyphony, Unnikrishnan brilliantly maps a new, unruly global English. Giving substance and identity to the anonymous workers of the Gulf, he highlights the disturbing ways in which progress on a global scale is bound up with dehumanization.
A Summer Revenge by Tom Callaghan – DUBAI
Having resigned from Bishkek Murder Squad, Akyl Borubaev is a lone wolf with blood on his hands. Then the Minister of State Security promises Akyl his old life back . . . if Akyl finds his vanished mistress. The beautiful Natasha Sulonbekova has disappeared in Dubai with information that could destroy the Minister’s career.
But when Borubaev arrives in Dubai – straight into a scene of horrific carnage – he learns that what Natasha is carrying is worth far more than a damaged reputation. Discovering the truth plunges him into a deadly game that means he might never return to Kyrgyzstan . . . at least, not alive.
Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird – DUBAI
Taken to work in a strange country, Rashid and his little brother Shari cling to each other. Then they are separated and forced to become jockeys in the lucrative camel-racing business. Rashid is starved and worked to exhaustion by harsh supervisors – but he has a talent for racing and quickly becomes his stable’s star jockey. Soon he begins to forget what life was like when he had a proper home. He almost begins to forget about Shari . . .
The Place That Didn’t Exist by Mark Watson – DUBAI
Junior creative Tim Callaghan can hardly believe his luck when he’s flown out to Dubai to supervise the filming of an advert for an international charity. He is immediately entranced by the city – a futuristic environment unlike anywhere he’s ever been before, with an almost uncanny level of customer service. Shimmering and seductive, it seems as though nothing bad could ever happen in Dubai. But when a crew member is found dead in in mysterious circumstances, Tim learns that if a place seems too good to be true, it probably is . . .
To see the listing of all our books set in Dubai, please click here
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