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Staff Picks From Around the World: Kanzi from Cairo, Beirut, and Chicago

The following five books are dear to me. I have chosen them not only because I feel that in some way I can connect with the author or the protagonist, but also because I – an American-born Egyptian who grew up in Beirut but is currently living in Dublin – am rather confused about what or who I am, and often offer names of books, cuisines, or films in lieu of an answer to the questions, "Who are you?", "Where are you from?", or "So like, what's your deal?"

In these five books, you'll find food, identity crises, more food, travel, and fanciful adventures that I used to admire as a child while absentmindedly snacking on something. 

I hope these serve your World Book Day expectations with as much enthusiasm as a fresh bread roll and a plate of Mediterranean olives brings me.

Like Water For Chocolate

Like Water For Chocolate is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit - and recipes. A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.

A Map of Home

A Map of Home is one of those books you feel was written by you in an alternate universe. Randa Jarrar tells the story of the fearless and funny Nidali who was born in Boston to an Egyptian-Greek mother and Palestinian father, but who grew up in Kuwait. This endearing coming-of-age story will make you laugh, cry, and wonder exactly what your own map of home might look like.


Two tales about mothers, trans-sexuality, kitchens, love, tragedy, and the terms they all come to in the minds of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan.

Palestine on a Plate

If my house was on fire and I could only save three things, I'd take my cats, my Wii memory card, a my copy of Joudie Kalla's Palestine on a Plate. Of all the cookbooks I own (and I own many), never have I dog-eared so many pages, underlined so many passages, and cooked so many recipes than from this book. With a delightful collection of recipes that taste authentically of my homeland's cuisine, Palestine on a Plate is a must-own for any lover of the Middle East.

The man who would be king

Growing up, my favorite animated film was DreamWork's The Road to El Dorado. The adventure, the thrill, and the camaraderie all appealed to my 10-year old self who secretly wished she were a pirate sailing the seven seas. Later, I discovered the plot was based off Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King, in which two British officers travel to Kafiristan and are mistaken by the natives for Gods. The endearing ridiculousness of the plot makes this book the perfect companion to any fanciful imagination.


Egyptian-American food enthusiast born in Chicago, raised in Beirut, and living in Dublin. Multitasker at Bookwitty. Intimately familiar with the term "identity crisis".