Text that reads EVEN MORE SWANA BOOKS WE READ IN 2022. The book covers featured are: It Won’t Always Be Like This by Malaka Gharib, Girls That Never Die by Safia Elhillo, These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany, Brother Alive by Zain Khalid, Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine, Star Lake by Arda Collins, Keat’s Odes by Anahid Nersessian, What I Know of the Mountains by Maya Salameh


Summer Farah
21 min readDec 31, 2022




The second part of the year brought changes for both of us — moving, grad school, new jobs; despite our day-to-days piling up with more required readings making the recreational slow down a little, we still have 28-ish SWANA books between the two of us. Same deal applies! These are attempts to read more broadly across genre and the region, attempts to find new authors, attempts to uplift and examine the works of our community, all colored by our biases, what books our libraries have, etc etc (send us books for free, we’re asking soooo politely). We’ve added the back-half to our genre lists — fiction, poetry, and misc (non-fic, graphic novels, the uncategorizable etc), and you can check out the first half of the year here.

Happy new year, happy reading!

Samia & Summer



(51) A Hundred Other Girls by Iman Hariri-Kia

If you say something on the internet enough times sometimes you will get an ARC! I was so excited to read this book a little early, especially because I figured it would have an incredible library wait time based on the fact that author is a booktok star. I liked this! The book follows Noora, a 22 year-old blogger who grew up in New York City and just wants to be in the magazine industry. She finally gets her big break working for the EIC of a Vogue-esque publication, Vinyl, and quickly realizes it is in fact, the worst industry in the world! I love a romcom where the girl works at a magazine and is a little awkward. I love a story about the disillusionment of publishing and how the most satisfying content is actually the things we ourselves make or when we collaborate with our friends; these legacy institutions do not love us and never will. I saw myself in a lot of this book, both in Noora’s experiences and sort of the meta-context of what the author was pulling inspiration from — it makes sense, as we are the same age and also both SWANA and also kind of do the same things (but she is MUCH!!!! cooler than I am, I feel like her tethered). The narrator was fun and sweet, the drama and tensions in the story compelling, the pop culture references generally kind of grating even though I tried really hard to pretend it was Gilmore Girls…I recommend! Go have fun! — Summer



(52) The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine

This book was so wonderful and challenging and beautiful, wow!! Rabih Alameddine is swiftly becoming a fav author because he’s just so funny like so rarely do I really laugh while reading but I laugh constantly while reading his books! This story is certainly funny at times but also it’s emotional and sad. It follows Ya’qub/Jacob, a Yemeni-Lebanese gay man who lives in San Francisco and lost his whole community to AIDS. The book does another thing Alameddine does best and weaves between Jacob’s journals, his present-day thoughts as he checks himself into a psychiatric clinic because he’s being haunted by Satan, and a series of interviews Satan is conducting with Death and a number of Saints. The writing to his partner, who died of AIDS, and the writing about caring for his friends while they were dying, is brutal and stunning and the ending really rocked me. But there’s also so much biting, angry, funny critique of whiteness and neoliberalism and gentrification and the gap in memory of the trauma of AIDS. Just a really stunning story about what it means to be the sole carrier of so many memories. I did take some issue with the use of the N-word, which didn’t feel particularly necessary for the context & from a non-Black author, but this did only appear in one paragraph. I definitely want to read more Alameddine, probably Koolaids: The Art of War next!! — Samia


THIS IS A HARPER COLLINS 2022 RELEASE. We stand with the HC Union on strike! Donate to their strike fund! — Samia

(54) These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany

I liked this book so much more than I expected to! This is like a classic group of girl best friends navigating the world and love and adulthood book, very Sex Lives of College Girls or Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants-esque but slightly more grown up and if everyone was Muslim. It was fun in the way that a great, slightly goofy TV show is fun. Sure some of the dialogue is a little cringe in places but I found this book very easy to read and very endearing. I’ve seen some discourse on TikTok about this book being ~bad representation~ which I don’t really want to speak to too much but I will say I think where this book thrives is in representing without judgment the many different iterations of faith that exist in a single community, ie how one person might pray five times a day and not drink and also have sex before marriage and marry a non-Muslim, while another might drink and not want to have sex before marriage and find it important to marry a Muslim partner. Another critique I’ve seen about this book is that it’s a little white-saviory in that the white men are all wonderful and the Arab Muslim men are all terrible partners. I think there’s an argument to be made for this certainly, though I didn’t find it so egregious that I couldn’t still enjoy the story. My slight pushback to that argument would be that I think these relationships are intended to represent more how the social pressures to stop fooling around and find a good Muslim partner affect both men and women; the men become hypocritical and want wives who have not partied or had sex despite their own histories, while the women find themselves in relationships with men whose controlling behaviors they ignore because they think this is indicative of positive values that will make him an acceptable partner for the community, not just for them personally. In the end I think this isn’t that different from something like Ramy except for that it centers the perspectives of women, so I enjoyed it more. I did wish that this book engaged more with the question of Jenna’s sexuality, rather than just casually mentioning once or twice that she’s had sex with women. I think a deeper dive into this could’ve strengthened the conversations around the expectations for marriage and sex these women are all experiencing. But ultimately this book was very sweet and I had fun reading it!! If they make it into a miniseries, I would definitely watch. — Samia

(55) Girls That Never Die by Safia Elhillo

Safia!!! This book saved me from a slump it’s definitely the best read I’ve had in a while. I just adore Safia’s poetry so much and this collection is as brilliant as always. This book had a lot of poems I’d read already but the ones that were previously unpublished were some of my favorites and felt like they brought such energy to the collection that perfectly tied together the works I’d already read. My favorite poem was “Tony Soprano’s Tender Machismo” (also the best poem title ever lol). I think Safia’s poetry is really accessible generally because it has such a strong voice but this book in particular is one I’m looking forward to recommending to people who maybe are looking to get more into poetry! If this were my intro to contemporary poetry, I know I’d be obsessed ❤ — Samia

(56) The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Ok apologies in advance for a review that might be sort of mean. Most of my critical reviews are about like the politics of the work but this one is just about how I don’t think the writing is good!! If I’m being slightly unfair it’s because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much praise this book got (it was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction!!!) when it’s a book that came out around the same time as and has similar themes as The Arsonists’ City but the writing in this book is simply not that good!! Justice for Hala Alyan!!!!!!!! Anyway this book could have been interesting. I was intrigued by the fig tree narrator, but I think experimental choices like that have to lean into the experimental and the poetic to be successful and instead this was just so cringe. I mean come on. “I know what you are thinking. How could I, an ordinary Ficus carica, possibly be in love with a Homo sapiens? I get it, I’m no beauty.” Please!! Much of the rest of the tree part just felt like reciting facts from Wikipedia about plants and animals. There’s so many weird gaps in this narrative… we don’t see Defne and Kostas really fall in love the first time, we just meet them after they’re already in love. We skip over 25 years just to see them quickly fall in love again and the gap is filled in haphazardly. Then there’s Ada, their daughter in the present day, who doesn’t really feel like a well developed teenage character. There’s a whole plotline about how something embarrassing she does in class gets filmed and becomes a viral internet trend, but then that just fizzles out and isn’t mentioned again? The time jumping in this wasn’t confusing, it was just not adding anything to the story and it felt like bits kept getting lost and relationships never fully developed on the page. Frankly I felt like the vast majority of this story would’ve been more appropriately marketed as YA. Even the parts that were describing intense things, like acts of ethnic violence, or being disowned by your family, felt very watered down in a way that I don’t think is appropriate for adult fiction. I was honestly just shocked by how mediocre this book was given how widely it’s been praised. Read Arsonists’ City instead!! I beg you!! — Samia

(57) Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa

I think that if I hadn’t read this book alongside The Island of Missing Trees I would probably be less generous with this review. That being said, I felt like this book at least had an interesting story and included some powerful writing on Kurdish struggle and particularly the struggles of Kurdish women. I think the middle 100 pages or so was the strongest. This was the most insightful and moving part of the book to me. I also appreciated the author’s note for providing context for Chia’s character and role as a teacher. I think this comes through in the text as well, as the journal writings about his teaching were, to me, the best written part of this book, and felt the most grounded. Beyond that, though, I struggled a bit with the writing style and particularly the time jumps. I often felt like the most crucial moments of the story were being skipped and we only learned about them in retrospect. This created an emotional distance that I didn’t love. I was also honestly confused by the ending; the last third of the book veered into almost a romance novel and the tone felt a little too happily ever after which didn’t really make sense to me given the weight of this exile Leila is experiencing. I also really didn’t like the way an intersex character was worked into this book. It felt like this choice was made primarily for shock value and this character is not really valued in the narrative at all. That plotline, though small, definitely felt harmful to me in a few ways. Overall I didn’t love this book and I didn’t hate it either but I just wanted more from it. — Samia

(58) The Orchard by Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

I’ve had such bad book luck for the last two months and I really needed something solid to pull me out of the slump so when I saw this recommended as similar to My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, which was definitely a solid and engaging book/series, so I thought I’d give it a try. I was fully convinced to read it when I saw a) the beautiful cover, like seriously look how good it is; and b) that the author is Russian-Armenian (I’ve been searching for books to read by Armenian authors for a while!). To be clear, none of the characters in this book are Armenian, but I really enjoyed this book! I think the comparison to Ferrante definitely holds up in the friendship dynamic between Anya and Milka, the broader political landscape and conflict, the themes of violence and grief, and the prose, which is very direct but still quite lively. This book is a very sad but strong portrait of young people living through a lot of political and social complexity. It was definitely the solid read I was looking for! — Samia

(59) Either/Or by Elif Batuman

Ok, as I suspected I liked this book much better than The Idiot! Some of that may have been my reading mood but I felt like the narration here had much more energy and humor and the political and social questions that were all over the first book were interrogated, rather than elided as they were before. I think the exploration of gender, power, and sex was particularly successful in this book because Selin’s sort of passivity about her own life is a lot more uncomfortable than it is boring, which I didn’t necessarily feel in the last book (aside from perhaps some moments with Ivan). I also think that this book’s framing of the events of the first book is far more interesting than just reading those events as they happened, tbh. And I appreciated seeing Selin spend more time in Turkey and engage more with her own identity and positionality. I do still think that personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the campus novel as a structure for creative writing because it somewhat artificially confines the plot to the duration of a school year, which doesn’t always create the most engaging or interesting timeline or plot flow. I believe I read somewhere that Batuman might be writing a novella and/or short story set later in Selin’s life? I can’t find anything about this now but I hope it’s true! I’d like to see how this story continues outside college and what Selin might look like as a mature character. — Samia

(60) Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse by Anahid Nersessian

I didn’t really read at all during July except literally on the last few days; I finished this collection of essays that I had picked up a few months ago and really loved it! There’s something about the way Nersessian writes about poetry that makes the words sort of dance off the page; her analysis is so gorgeous and poignant. This collection looks at one of Keats’s odes, historically/socially/literarily(?) and sometimes moves the analysis towards a personal anecdote from the author. I don’t see a ton of cultural criticism in this vein with poetry at the center, especially Old Shit, so this was a really exciting model of scholarship/criticism that I’m excited to explore more, both in my reading and own writing! –Summer



(61*) Girls That Never Die by Safia Elhillo

One of my MOST ANTICIPATED FOR THIS YEAR!!!! I pre-ordered a copy and resisted reading it as soon as it arrived so that it could begin my Sealey Challenge for this year. It was excellent, as expected — Safia is truly one of my top five poets and I am just so happy I get to spend more time with her work, I’m so happy to see how themes have developed, the new language she brings forth. Ugh! Just so good. I had goosebumps the entire last half of of the book. –Summer

(62) What I Know of the Mountains by Hajjar Baban

I’ve known Hajjar for many years — I THINK we were in a Winter Tangerine workshop together, although it might have been something else. Anyway, she is someone who has been in my internet orbit for many years and I realized I hadn’t actually read any of her chapbooks — so I had to fix that! I’m glad I saved this for the Sealey Challenge, just because I feel like I read books differently this month. I spent a very beautiful morning sitting outside, spending time with these poems. Hajjar is tender and chilling, succinct and experimental. It’s impeccable! –Summer

(63) Your Blue and the Quiet Lament by Lubna Safi

I was supposed to formally review this book but my world was too overwhelming, so I’ll just say the nicest things about it here: Lubna is incredible, her poetry is so engaged with the act of creating, both the physicality of it and the emotionality of it; the narratives of these poems are so vivid and I loved spending time with her stories. The book itself is gorgeous, too, hardcover and blue! –Summer

(64) Star Lake by Arda Collins

I was looking for Armenian poets and a friend recommended Arda Collins! I think she does a beautiful job with these airy, stunning images that feel almost out of reach conceptually, then crashes them down with biting, solid context. I’ve been recommending her work to writers I work with as a masterclass in mixing modes. –Summer

(65) Brother Alive by Zain Khalid

Ok this review comes with the caveat that I’m not entirely sure the author ID’s as SWANA (in a profile he said he has heritage from India, Pakistan, and “parts of the Middle East”) but this book is so great and I want to review it so I’m counting it for the list and please correct me if I’m wrong! This book is soooo weird in the best way. It follows three brothers adopted by an eccentric imam and raised at his Staten Island mosque, but it quickly develops into something much more complex. Youssef, our narrator, is haunted by a creature called Brother who eats his memories; the boys’ father, Imam Salim, clearly has deep difficult secrets; there’s some stuff about college basketball and oil spills and propaganda. A whole lot! But it’s so richly collected and beautifully written that it really works. Then there’s a whole bunch of very prescient stuff about a culty organization that builds a planned, self contained city in Saudi Arabia (hello from The Line). I don’t want to say too much! But I think this book is a really unique and beautiful look at religious corruption, neoliberalism, eugenics, memory, and complex ideas of family. The writing is really rich and reminded me a lot of Rabih Alameddine at times, but ultimately this book is really unlike anything I’ve read and I loved that! Definitely check content warnings on this one though lol. — Samia

(66) Between the Shadow & the Soul by Mariam Gomaa

Mariam is a Tin House friend of me and Samia’s! Her work is so dreamy and cool and I knew I had to get her chapbook after spending a weekend listening to her talk about poetry. I saved it for the Sealey challenge, which was an excellent choice — short but so, so engaging. –Summer

(67) The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony by Ladan Osman

Another Ladan Osman for the Sealey Challenge! I loved this one just as much as Exiles of Eden; it was interesting to see some of the stories that preceded work, themes, and moments in that second collection. –Summer

(68) E-mails from Scheherazad by Mohja Kahf

I was so touched by Samia’s description of this book on our list last year and thought it was a shame that I hadn’t read any of Mohja Kahf’s collections in full; it’s always a gift to read women who are so foundational to the place I write from now, the artistic communities that hold me, and the work I am moving towards. This book rocks! I need to get the rest of her books! –Summer

(69) My Poets Don’t Die by Qutouf Yahia

This was actually my last book before I gave up on the Sealey Challenge and got viciously obsessed with Haikyuu, but it was a great one to go out on! I loved this little chapbook; it’s part of the 2021 African Poetry Fund boxset, and ended up being one of my favorites in the batch. –Summer

(70) Departures: An Introduction to Critical Refugee Studies by Yen Le Espiritu, Lan Duong, Ma Vang, Victor Bascara, Khatharya Um, Lila Sharif, and Nigel Hatton (and editorial assisted by our very own Summer Farah!!)

So begins the “Samia writing reviews of books she read for class” era … but so what! This book is cool! It’s a short and fairly introductory work on the emerging field of Critical Refugee Studies, a framework for looking at refugees and refugeehood beyond a category for state control and instead with refugee agency at the center. I think this is generally very accessible academic work that theorizes new ways of understanding and expanding refugee narratives and which also draws on a lot of beautiful creative work in the process. This book is definitely a starting point and therefore can’t and doesn’t encompass all aspects of refugee narratives and community, but I definitely think it’s worth the read for anyone in community with refugees (who amongst us as SWANA people is not) and/or anyone who is seeking to work with refugee communities in various capacities. — Samia



(71) The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

This was a re-read of one of my favorite poetry collections ever! I love Hala, forever and ever, I cannot recommend everything she does enough. –Summer



(72) How To Make an Algorithm in the Microwave by Maya Salameh

Maya is someone I feel very close to in terms of where we’re writing from, where we got our starts, and what interests us; we’re both from Southern California, both shami Christians, both went to Northern California for college and were part of spoken word groups (they went to Stanford, I went to Berkeley, rivalry if I cared about school sports etc etc). I LOVED their chapbook rooh and am always a big champion of the Etel Adnan winners, so this was one of my most anticipated of 2022! I interviewed Maya for Sumou, which will come out eventually, but I just want to emphasize how fucking spectacular this book is — there are invented forms, there are the most brilliant executions of prose poems, the titles are poems in themselves; it’s playful and cutting and just kind of everything you want from a debut collection. –Summer

(73) No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani, trans. Omid Tofighian

This was a read for school but also a deeply stunning and accessible text. This is a book of writing by a Kurdish-Iranian writer chronicling his attempt to seek refuge in Australia and subsequent imprisonment on Manus Island. I sort of thought going into this book (mostly because of the marketing and the foreword) that it would be like a classic refugee narrative written as an appeal to a Western benevolence, in this case specifically a white Australian audience. But it’s actually nothing like that at all, and I think the translator really effectively frames it as an indigenous, decolonial, critical text. I would describe this book as something close to autotheory maybe, a theorization of the space of the prison and, more particularly, refugee detention, rooted in personal experience and narrative. It also moves really seamlessly between prose and poetry and a lot of the theorization occurs in poetic form. The tone and theoretical approach of this text remind me a lot of The Wretched of the Earth. This is a super harrowing read but deeply impactful! — Samia

(74) ‘Illegal Traveler’: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders by Shahram Khosravi

This is another excellent book I read for school. Like No Friend But the Mountains, I found this book to be really beautiful and easy to read while also doing some deep engaging theorizing from self experience. This one draws a bit more on outside academic text and on comparison between various undocumented experiences. I think this book offers a really unique and under-told story about the complex ways border crossing is navigated and borders are resisted. In particular, there’s an interview in here with a Kurdish smuggler who began by helping other Kurdish political dissidents flee Iran and now runs a massive international resistance project through the smuggling of people across borders, and the way he articulates his politics and projects is absolutely staggering. I really recommend this book! — Samia

(75) White Blight by Athena Farrokhzad, trans. Jennifer Hayashida

My friend Moni recommended this book to me!!! The cover is crazy — it’s like, silvery and reflective and the title is embedded into the book cloth. Very, very striking, and just the beginning to one of the best reading experiences I’ve had this year — it’s composed of sort poems (I guess it’s a book-length poem) that white text with black background, making everything kind of stark and sterile feeling? It’s so much about who narrates, who transcribes voice, what happens when you assign language to someone in your work, the varying levels of violence associated with that — the fact that I read it in translation made it feel even more apt? So so so good!!!! –Summer

(76) It Won’t Always Be Like This by Malaka Gharib

I LOVED THIS SOOOOOOO MUCH!!!! Malaka is soooo good with humor and depicting family difficulties/tensions with so much love. We did a RAWI event with her and watching her read the panels out loud was also such a gift & blast. –Summer

(77) Death Bloom by Yasmeen Abedifard

I picked this up alongside It Won’t Always Be Like This and a handful of other graphic novels/comics during a thoroughly irresponsible trip to a comic shop in San Francisco, but oooooh my GOODNESS am I thankful I did! This is a beautiful hand-bound comic about grief and gardening; it’s probably the most stunning book I own? –Summer



(78) After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives by Edward Said and Jean Mohr

Man, this book made me cry and I do not cry at books easily. It’s just so beautiful, and such a rich example of how brilliant Said was as a writer, not just in a scholarly sense, but in a creative sense too. There is so much from this book that feels dated but it’s both sad and maybe comforting/hopeful that much of it feels like it could be written today. It is beautiful to see these photos and stories documenting the day to day lives, laughter, and expressions of complex personhood and resistance across Palestine and beyond all borders. Reading this book feels a little surreal because it exists at such an interesting point in time, but speaks beyond the limits of time. An absolutely remarkable text that everyone should at least consider reading (and wow the 80s fashion is impeccable in these photos). — Samia



(79) Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

I started and ended my year in the best way possible: reading Hala Alyan novels. I decided to try this one as an audiobook, which is not my preferred reading method usually, but I did really enjoy it! It’s a long book so I sort of wish I’d switched to a physical copy towards the end but I did ultimately really love Leila Buck’s narration of this and it makes me want to go back and listen to the audiobook of The Arsonists’ City, which she also narrates. Hala’s prose is just so vivid and hearing it out loud brings something even more beautiful to it I think!! I ultimately thought this book was incredible but it is a devastating read. Like, I’ve read a lot of sad books and this is by far one of the saddest, though it’s not devoid of joy or hope by any means. I don’t want to compare this too much to The Arsonists’ City, but Summer and I have talked a lot about first versus second novels from SWANA authors and how often we see first novels that, while beautiful, tell a story that perhaps we expect to be told about SWANA lives — stories of trauma, refugeehood, etc. — and in second novels authors might have the chance to write more expansively about our histories and futures, even within a plot still centered around war and trauma. I definitely see that happening in Hala Alyan’s two novels, which I don’t mean as a criticism at all. They’re a set of truly brilliant novels with a lot of shared themes — lost friends, memory, secrets, complicated relationships between mothers and their children — and they feel very real and honest. I’m happy to have read them and can’t wait to see what she produces next. Already a favorite poet, she certainly became a favorite novelist of mine this year. — Samia

What’s next?

Check out this GoodReads list Samia curated of SWANA 2023 releases!


At the end of the day, what I read next will be almost entirely dictated by my grad school curriculum and also how much energy I have to read in my free time (very little). I’m taking a class on “The Middle East in American Studies” next semester so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to write about from that syllabus! Beyond that, I have a couple of books that have been on my list for a minute but I never got around to reading them this year:

  • The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine
  • The Last Ones by Fatima Daas
  • How to Make an Algorithm in the Microwave by Maya Salameh

And a few of my most anticipated 2023 releases are:

  • The Skin and Its Girl by Sarah Cypher
  • River Spirit by Leila Aboulela
  • I Will Greet the Sun Again by Khashayar J. Khabushani (to connect to my new LA SWANA life lol)
  • Between Two Moons by Aisha Abdel Gawad


I recently made an “unread” spot on my bookshelf, partly to shame myself into finishing what I have before buying more, partly so I stop forgetting the things I’ve purchased! This involves several poetry collections, novels, story collections, and essay collections (lots of collections) by SWANA writers, so I have a rough idea of what the first few months of 2023 will be like. I’ve told myself I have to read at least four books on this unread shelf and two library books before I re-read Haikyuu, which has a lot to do with the bareness of my reading on the latter half of the year. That being said, I’m in the middle of two poetry collections:

  • La Syrena by Banah el Ghadbanah (it’s sooooooooo good so far)
  • From Spirit to Matter: New & Selected Poems, 1969–1996 by Carol Lee Sanchez (yes I started it in December of last year, yes I didn’t finish it)

The 2023 releases I’m most looking forward to:

  • Strong Female Character by Hanna Flint (US release in February!!!!)
  • Nayra and the Jinn by Iasmin Omar Ata
  • The Ashfire King by Chelsea Abdullah



Summer Farah

Summer Farah is a Palestinian American poet and editor. She co-writes the biweekly newsletter Letters to Summer.