This month we’re packing a bag and setting off into five backlist science fiction and fantasy titles dealing with journeys. We’re going into the past, into the future, into legends, and into the self. The destinations are unknown and the paths are rocky, but we walk them anyway.
The Book of Disappearance by Ibtisam Azem, translated by Sinan Antoon (Syracuse University Press, 2019)
In this haunting novel, Palestinian author Ibtisam Azem asks what would happen if all the Palestinians vanished from Israel. Although set in the 21st century, the story echoes the history of the city where it’s set—Jaffa, where thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948. We see the Israeli perspective as they try to figure out what happened, but also that of the vanished Palestinians through the correspondence left behind. The journey Azem takes the reader on is literal, as we walk through a land devoid of many of the people that called it home, and metaphorical, as our Israeli protagonist begins to question everything they think they know.
Palestine +100 edited by Basma Ghalayini (Comma Press, 2019)
Twelve Palestinian authors tackle the question of what their homeland might look like in 2048, a century after the first Nakba, with a speculative angle. From drones to virtual reality, the Olympics to superheroes, the apocalypse to parallel universes, this anthology takes the reader on a journey across the speculative genre and through time. 2048 is not that far away, but only by reckoning with the past can we craft a new future.
Trees for the Absentees by Ahlam Bsharat, translated by Sue Copeland (Neem Tree Press, 2019)
Young adult novellas are a rare breed in publishing, despite the obvious need (if you don’t read YA you may not know how dominated the age range is with books that are 350+ pages, particularly in speculative genres). This is a lovely story about a college student living in occupied Palestine. Philistia splits her time between studying at Al-Quds Open University and working at an ancient hammam (a Turkish bath) in Nablus. Her father is imprisoned in an Israeli jail while her grandmother shares stories of how she used to prepare the bodies of the dead for burial. As she traverses between the “real” world and fantasy, Philistia confronts her life living in a colonized land.
Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands by Sonia Nimr, translated by Marcia Lynx Qualey (Interlink, 2020)
Twin sisters Shams and Qamar, are orphaned at a young age after their parents help destroy a curse plaguing their village in northern Palestine. While Shams chooses a quiet life at home, Qamar sets off on a vast, incredible journey from the Middle East to North Africa, from the Mediterranean to Asia. Along the way she not only experiences remarkable events but tells fantastical tales as well. A beautiful, feminist exploration of folklore.
Squire by Sara Alfageeh & Nadia Shammas (Quill Tree Books, 2022)
This is the first graphic novel I’ve featured in this column, and I’m starting off strong. Aiza desperately wants to be a Knight, an honor that would confer upon her fame, fortune, and—crucially for someone in a colonized country—citizenship. With the Bayt-Sajji Empire on the verge of war, Aiza has a chance at knighthood, but first she must become a Squire. This YA fantasy is a gorgeously illustrated story about the complications of navigating life in an empire as an oppressed person just trying to survive.
Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), bluesky (@bookjockeyalex), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).