Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 February 2020

Five books that spoke to parts of my identity

Nada El Sawy shares her favourite reads as an Egyptian, an American, a writer, a runner and a human being

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Courtesy Penguin Random House
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Courtesy Penguin Random House

We all are drawn to books that we can relate to in some way, even while they transport us to places we have never been to or present us with situations we have never confronted. My main criteria for a good book is either a story that pulls me in, is beautifully written, teaches me something, or ideally all three.

I enjoy reading a variety of fiction and non-fiction, and I am always open to book recommendations from people of different cultures or walks of life. Here are my five recommended reads, even if you’re not an Egyptian, an American, a writer or a runner (I assume you’re at least a human being).

The Beginning and the End by Naguib Mahfouz (1956)

In case you don’t know who Naguib Mahfouz is, he is the godfather of Arabic contemporary literature and won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature. The Beginning and the End follows a middle-class Egyptian family during the Second World War. It is a powerful portrayal of how poverty and desperation can lead to moral dilemmas.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

This is not an American novel and the author is Nigerian. It is about a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to the US to attend university. She discovers what it means to be a non-American black person in America and through this lens examines the issue of race. Her observations are insightful and witty, and masterfully woven into the story.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (1995)

This may not interest non-writers, but for writers and writers-to-be this guide gives some helpful tips and inspiration without being dry. Lamott tells stories and injects humour while addressing how to overcome challenges such as writer’s block, finding your voice and dealing with bad first drafts.

How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle by Matt Fitzgerald (2015)

Switching gears to a completely different genre, this is a great book for anyone who considers themselves an athlete or is curious about what it takes to develop mental toughness. In this book Fitzgerald, an endurance runner and coach, shows the mental aspects of improving performance.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu (2016)

This was a recent choice of my book club, which has been going strong for 13 years. I’m generally not a big fan of self-help books, but who better to give advice on finding happiness than ever-smiling spiritual leaders the Dalai Lama and South African archbishop Desmond Tutu?

Updated: August 22, 2019 05:52 PM



Most Popular