15 Powerful Works by Palestinian Women You Must Read

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Palestine has a long, rich and vibrant tradition of literature with incredible writers who have contributed to Palestinian identity, culture and the quest for freedom through their works. Among the voices that bring these narratives to life, Palestinian women offer unique perspectives, but often get overlooked in conversations about Palestinian literature.

You might already be familiar with Mahmoud Darwish, Edward Said, and Mohammed El-Kurd – here are 15 books by Palestinian women writers to add to your reading list.

Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family (2013) by Najla Said

A poignant memoir of the daughter of a prominent Palestinian father and a sophisticated Lebanese mother growing up in New York City. Looking for Palestine explores the complexities of identity, belonging and growing up between two worlds. With candid emotion, Said recounts her struggles with self-image, cultural identity, and her quest to find a place where she truly feels at home.

Salt Houses (2017) by Hala Alyan

In her debut novel, Alyan humanizes the conflicts you may have heard of in headlines, through the story of a Palestinian family that is uprooted by the Six-Day War of 1967 and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Salt Houses follows the Yacoub family over three generations, from Nablus to Kuwait City to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. As its characters struggle with the meaning of home in the face of perpetual displacement, readers are reminded of the way the Nakba and colonialism more broadly have shaped the history, present and future of the Palestinian people.

Amreekiya (2018) by Lena Mahmoud

A compelling exploration of identity and belonging, Amreekiya tells the story of Isra, a young Palestinian-American woman navigating the challenges between cultures and trying to define herself. The novel is an interesting look at what it means to straddle two worlds, and the journey to find one’s place within them.

A Woman is No Man (2019) by Etaf Rum

Rum’s debut novel A Woman Is No Man takes us inside the lives of an Arab family living in America. The story follows Isra, a Palestinian girl who moves to Brooklyn after an arranged marriage, and her daughter Deya. While separated by a generation, the mother and daughter both navigate the challenging dynamics of identity, autonomy, and gender expectations, revealing the painful sacrifices and silent rebellions of women bound by societal norms.

Mornings in Jenin (2010) and Against the Loveless World (2020) by Susan Abulhawa

Mornings in Jenin is a heart-wrenching story of displacement, resilience, and the deep roots of family. Amal is born in the refugee camp of Jenin. Her family is trying to survive the trauma of being forced out of their home in the olive-farming village of Ayn Hawd in 1948, the abduction of her brother as a baby, and forging their place in a world that continually marginalizes them.

Winner of the Arab American Book Award for 2021, Against the Loveless World follows Nahr, a Palestinian woman, who narrates her story from a solitary confinement cell. Tracing her life from Kuwait to Jordan, then to Palestine and finally to an Israeli prison, she navigates the brutalities of living in exile and under occupation. Through Nahr’s eyes, we see the impact of war on individual lives and the unyielding spirit of resistance against oppression.

You Exist Too Much (2020) by Zaina Arafat

Arafat’s protagonist is a young Palestinian-American woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities. Through her story the reader is asked to reckon with the similarities between our individual traumas and the divisions of the places that have formed us. You Exist Too Much addresses two of the most human longings: for love, and a place to call home.

In My Mother’s Footsteps: A Palestinian Refugee Returns Home (2021) by Mona Hajjar Halaby

“‘Refugees are like seeds that scatter in the wind, and land in different soils that become their reluctant homes’ my mother once told me.”

Mona had only experienced Palestine through her mother’s memories. So when she moved from California to Ramallah for a year of teaching, the journey became one of personal rediscovery. Her memoir is an intimate account of daily life in a militarized, occupied Palestinian town, and the deep-seated ties that bind diasporic Palestinians to their roots.

The women of Ramallah have long played a key role in pioneering feminism, women’s rights and the importance of education within their community.

My First and Only Love (2021) by Sahar Khalifeh (translated by Aida Bamia)

In the final days of the British Mandate, Nidal returns to her family home in Nablus, where she meets a love she thought she had lost. Exploring themes of nostalgia, national identity, and the enduring power of first love, Khalifeh beautifully captures the intersection of individual stories in historical events with a strong feminist voice

The book was originally written and published in Arabic with the title “حبي الأول” (Hubbi al-Awal; My First Love).

The Beauty of Your Face (2021) by Sahar Mustafah

In the Chicago suburbs, a gunman opens fire at a school. Afaf Rahman, the school principal and daughter of Palestinian immigrants, sees her past and present converge as she reconciles with the impact of violence on personal growth and community. Mustafah pens a story of our shared humanity in one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books for 2020.

You Can Be the Last Leaf: Selected Poems (2022) by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat (translated by Fady Joudah)

“those who win by killing fewer children / are losers.”

This collection of poems by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat offers insight to the everyday realities of life in Palestine, woven with themes of love, loss, and longing. Abu Al-Hayyat’s voice is both tender and bold, capturing the human spirit amidst ongoing conflict. This translation of her works by poet Fady Joudah challenges a wider audience to develop a deeper understanding of Palestinian existence.

They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom (2022) by Ahed Tamimi and Dena Takruri

“What would you do if you grew up seeing your home repeatedly raided? Your parents arrested? Your mother shot? Your uncle killed? Try, for just a moment, to imagine that this was your life. How would you want the world to react?”

Ahed Tamimi is a Palestinian activist who came of age participating in nonviolent demonstrations. She became an international icon when she was jailed at 16 after a confrontation with Israeli soldiers. Co-authored with journalist Dena Takruri, this memoir details the daily indignities of occupation, the powerful role of youth, and the humanity of people struggling for freedom around the world.

Dear God, Dear Bones, Dear Yellow (2022) by Noor Hindi

What does it mean to bear witness through writing? Hindi’s poems explore identity, grief, and survival through the intersections of nationality, colonialism, and personal trauma. Hindi’s poignant verses present a profound commentary on the struggles of being heard in a fragmented world.

Read more about how poetry is giving voice to Gaza’s youth.

Enter Ghost (2023) by Isabella Hammad

Award winning British-Palestinian author Isabella Hammad’s new novel follows actress Sonia Nasir as she returns to her family home of Haifa in Palestine. Initially simply visiting her older sister, she ends up taking the role of Gertrude in an Arabic-language West Bank production of Hamlet. This is an unforgettable story of artistry in the face of conflict.

Behind You Is the Sea (2024) by Susan Muaddi Darraj

A workaholic lawyer finds unexpected love; a young college student moves in with her traditional grandparents; a cop returns his estranged father’s body to Palestine for burial. Funny and touching, Behind You Is the Sea gives voice to the diverse residents of a Palestinian-American community in Baltimore. Through the lives of three families – the Baladis, the Salamehs, and the Ammars – Darraj transcends politics to break stereotypes and present the uniquely human experience of Palestinians with nuance.

As a social enterprise led by women, NaTakallam has always made it a point to highlight women’s stories from around the world. It is through these stories that we can forge connections that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries.

As you delve into the stories of Palestinian women, why not further your exploration by learning the language that carries their voices? NaTakallam offers unique Arabic language learning that pairs learners with native-speaking tutors from conflict-affected communities. Sign up for our Integrated Arabic Curriculum or Arabic language sessions (in 6+ dialects, including Palestinian) today.

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