Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen by Amrou Al-Kadhi

As part of my Pride Month reading this year, I tried to pick up books that would help me learn about the diverse experiences of LGBTQ+ people beyond the margins of white, cisgender America. Amrou Al-Kadhi [they/them] expertly does just so in their memoir, Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen. This lavish and raw autobiography renders a refreshing peek into the life of a queer Iraqi-British Muslim drag queen- an intersectional identity that demands the careful and nuanced representation Al-Kadhi offers in their memoir. 

In their beautifully written story, Al-Kadhi, or Glamrou as they are known on stage, is a stunning example of the self-expression and self-exploration drag allows. Raised in a socially-conservative, religious household, Al-Kadhi was instilled early on with a torturously rigid sense of shame and self worth. Their journey outlines the beauty and freedom they experienced as a child, as well as the connection they felt to their mother and the world she created for them. “My mother’s middle east was one I felt safe in,” they lovingly recall. 

As they grew through their adolescence, though, they became painfully aware of the Middle East and Islam’s perspective on homosexuality and gender-noncomformity. It would take years of cultural healing and rediscovery for Al-Kadhi to feel connected to their family, heritage, and religion. While simultaneously mending the pain of the past and celebrating a mergence of femininity and faith, it was ultimately through drag that they finally felt at home in both their queerness and their culture. 

Unicorn is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Beyond Al-Kadhi’s personal narrative of self-acceptance and perseverance, the story is heavy with complex understanding of how culture and faith belong to a people, not an individual. Al-Kadhi’s revelations of gender, sexuality, and belonging are inspiring and beautifully rendered. 

I would sincerely recommend this to anyone hoping to immerse themselves in a piece of nonfiction, at the heart of which is a story of the human search for acceptance and home.  

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan on DVD

CIA analyst Jack Ryan sits behind a desk, working on a computer. He is not, he repeats, not a field agent. But when he uncovers a terrorist’s plan for a massive attack on the United States and her allies, he is pushed into action and sent on a dangerous mission to end the threat in season one of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

The story is somewhat familiar: Suliman, a high ranking tribal leader in the Middle East has gathered a group of followers and is planning a massive strike on the West. Working as an analyst, Jack discovers a pattern of suspicious bank transactions that lead him to believe Suliman is planning something devastating. Despite the fact that he isn’t a field agent, Jack’s boss sends him to the Middle East to investigate and stop whatever the terrorist has planned.

Based on Tom Clancy’s books about Jack Ryan, this television series delivers with lots of action, intrigue, secrets and close-calls. John Krasinski as Jack Ryan is likable and relate-able, the every man (although one with considerable gun skills) that is pushed into impossible situations but manages to stay-the-course and come out in one piece. Ryan’s background is hinted out, but never fully explained, we simply know that he served in the Special Forces in the Middle East and was badly injured in battle.

A mature, fast-paced exploration of very complex issues.

Come, Read How a Famous Mystery Writer Married to an Archeologist Lives

In 1930, Agatha Christie married her second husband, Max Mallowan, an archeologist, and spent many happy seasons accompanying him on his archeological digs in the Middle East. Her experiences with the people and the environment then became inspirations for many of her most famous novels including Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia, and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie wrote Come, Tell Me How You Live as response to the many people who asked her what it was like to travel around the cradle of civilization on her husband’s expeditions in Syria, Iraq and many other places.

I ADORE this book. From lamenting over her husband shoving books into her carefully packed crate at the last minute to becoming tongue-tied with feeling inferior while chatting with their architect to running out of her bedroom screaming due to being covered in mice and cockroaches (her husband recommended that she just go to sleep and then she wouldn’t notice them crawling over her…yeah right), I just found Agatha to be so lovely and Britishy and wonderful! She manages to be both neurotic yet brave, awkward yet charming, silly yet shrewd, much like a heroine in a Sophie Kinsella or Katie Fforde novel. Come, Tell Me How You Live is the perfect mixture of personal memoir and travel adventure and a fascinating snapshot of the relationship between European archeologists and the Middle Eastern peoples during the years between the wars. This little known book is a fun read for all armchair travelers and Agatha Christie fans.

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson is the memoir of a young woman who makes the life-changing decision to abandon atheism and convert to Islam.  After being offered a teaching position at the Language School, Wilson moves to Cairo, Egypt, where she experiences what it is really like to be a Muslim woman in a Middle Eastern country.  Here she quickly discovers that she must learn all over again how to do simple things like greet someone and shop for groceries.  Her life takes an unexpected turn when she meets Omar, who defies the stereotypes of Muslim men she has always heard about.  As Omar teaches Willow how to get by in this new environment, the two fall in love and embark upon a new journey where two cultures come together and learn to relate to one another.

I absolutely loved this book.  I was a Religion major in college, so I had a little background knowledge of Islam, but I learned so much more about it from reading an actual Muslim woman’s perspective.  It was incredibly enlightening to learn about what it’s like for a real Muslim woman in the Middle East, rather than just focusing on the often sad images we see on the news.  Despite being in a place so different from where we live, the story is still relatable, and the author takes care to always explain Arabic words and cultural concepts to the reader.  If you’re interested in learning about about Islam but want something that reads like a novel rather than a textbook, I highly recommend The Butterfly Mosque.

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

Agnes Shanklin, a 40-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio, is still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic. A modest inheritance allows her to take the trip of a lifetime and travel to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving just as the Cairo Peace Conference of 1921 begins, Agnes becomes an observer and confident of the historic players – including Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) – that will, in the course of a few days, invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan.

Best known for her award winning science fiction novels, Russell’s Dreamers of the Day is historical fiction at it’s best – the characters and their actions are believable and the history is made real through the skillful use of period details and atmosphere. “Seeing” the formation of these countries and the divisions of loyalties – many of which have lead directly to issues we still face in the region today – was fascinating and enlightening.

There’s more than history here, though – you will get caught up in Agnes’ personal story, her triumphs and set-backs, her clear-eyed perspective as she and her little dog Rosie walk in history’s shadow.