MECACS Reads Issue #3

Sunday 25 June 2023

Collated by MECACS Intern Vittoria Gattini

MECACS reads is a monthly blog post and newsletter devoted to literature on the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia regions. Through this initiative, we would like to offer stimulating suggested reading that is not necessarily academic in nature but may pertain to elements of politics and culture.

We aim to offer two recommendations for each region in every issue.

Middle East

Teheran: City of Love (2018) Directed by ALI JABERANSARI, Iran

Three stories of love and yearning set in Tehran. Mina is a secretary in a beauty clinic who is struggling with her weight but is addicted to ice-cream. Hessam is a winner of bodybuilding competitions, who now trains affluent older men. Vahid is a funeral singer who has been dumped by his fiancée. (MUBI)

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali (2009) Yemen

Nujood Ali’s childhood came to an abrupt end in 2008 when her father arranged for her to be married to a man three times her age. With harrowing directness, Nujood tells of abuse at her husband’s hands and of her daring escape. With the help of local advocates and the press, Nujood obtained her freedom—an extraordinary achievement in Yemen, where almost half of all girls are married under the legal age. (from Goodreads


AVETIK (1992) Directed by Don Askarian, Armenia

Hovering between the realms of poetry and history, this stunningly photographed, elegiac work – shot mostly in long takes – mixes cryptic metaphor and fantastic symbolism to tell the story of Avetik, an Armenian filmmaker exiled in Berlin. In sensuous, lyric styling, Askarian employs dreamlike images to reflect the history of his homeland, tranquil childhood memories, images inspired by erotic medieval poetry, and autobiographical shades of his own exile in Germany. (Letterboxd

The Orphan Sky by Ella Leya (2015), Azerbaijan

In 1979 in Baku, Azerbaijan, Leila epitomizes the perfect Soviet teenager. She proves her dedication to her government by serving as a committed member of the Komsomol–the Communist Youth League–and by competing for the glory of her homeland as a promising concert pianist. Daughter of a prominent oilman, Leila’s birth into the privileged nomenklatura comes with certain advantages, such as residence in a luxury apartment, access to music lessons with the exacting but brilliant Professor Sultan-zade, and the attention of handsome Comrade Farhad, who holds an important position on the city Komsomol Committee. When Farhad judges Leila’s attitude too elitist, she jumps at the chance to redeem herself by spying on a suspected capitalist sympathizer who runs a music shop.  (from Shelf-Awareness

Central Asia

TO GET TO HEAVEN, FIRST YOU HAVE TO DIE (2006) Directed by Jamshed Usmonov, Tajikistan

Twenty-year-old Kamal has been married for a few months but his wife is still a virgin. Learning that there is nothing physically wrong with him after visiting a doctor, Kamal sets off into town to search for another woman. By the director of ‘Angel on the Right’. (MUBI)

Turkestan Solo: A Journey Through Central Asia by Ella Maillart (1934)

Ella Maillart travels to Russian Turkestan which the Soviet revolutionaries are attempting to westernize. On horseback, she crosses Kirghizstan as far as the T’ien Shan range (the Celestial Mountains ). With makeshift skis, she climbs a mountain of 5000 metres on the Chinese border. She explores Tashkent, Samarkand and Bokhara and travels down the Amu Daria. On a camel and in glacial winds she crosses, solo, the Desert of Red Sands to the east of the Aral Sea, avoiding dangerous checkpoints. (by GoodReads

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