There is very little fiction for adults that is set in Dubai. Perhaps this reflects the ‘fact is stranger than fiction’ feel to the city.
Luigi Falconi (2008) The Duke of Dubai
The Duke of Dubai is the leader of a group of expats and Arabs who are all trying to get rich quick, at any cost. Luigi Falconi, the main character in this fictional account, wants to play with the big boys. He wants to be wealthy like the Duke and is prepared to go to almost any lengths to get there. Luigi’s mounting greed conflicts with his conscience in a way that mirrors what is happening in the city itself as it grows and develops at a breakneck speed. As we follow the adventures of the assorted characters in this book, we gain an insight into the political and cultural mélange of Dubai.
Muhammad Al Murr (1990) Dubai Tales, and (1994) Wink of the Mona Lisa
These collections of short stories are translated from the original Arabic. They are written by perhaps the most famous of all Emirati writers who is currently head of the Dubai Cultural Council and previously editor in chief of two local newspapers. His insights into the political and cultural world of Dubai enrich the stories which provide outsiders with glimpses into the lives of those in the local community.
Maryam Mohammed (2006) Tears on the Sand
This collection of stories is set in a Dubai that has long since disappeared. It is a world of pearl-fishing, superstition, tradition and innocence. Although the stories are fictional, they are based on the facts of what life was like in the past. This is an insight into a world we seldom hear about by a local writer.
Maha Gargash (2009) The Sand Fish: A Novel from Dubai
This novel was released towards the end of 2009 and very soon became a best seller. It is set in the 1950s and tells the story of a young independent village girl who is forced to become the third wife of a wealthy childless pearl merchant. She faces problems from the temper and jealousy of the other wives. The family dynamics quickly change when she becomes pregnant after an illicit affair.
For younger readers:
There is a much greater range of books for children which are set in Dubai and written by local writers. These include Abdulla and his Grandfather, Omar’s Goats, Fishcakes and Jelly, The Camel That Got Away, The Camel Beauty Contest, Bella the Desert Dog, and the ever popular Tales of Arabia series. For the slightly older readers, the following books are well worth a read.
Julia Johnson (2003) The Pearl Diver
This beautifully illustrated book provides children with an insight into what life was like for children who lived in Dubai when the economy was based on pearl trading. Through the simple story of a young boy called Saeed and his father, a vivid picture is created of the culture and conditions at the time. Saeed accompanies his father on his first pearl diving expedition but his excitement does not last long as they face the dangerous conditions at sea.
Linda Davies (2007) Sea Djinn
Finn Kennedy is a typical expat boy who spends most of his time thinking about surfing. But this soon comes to an end when he encounters the Sea Djinn. Together with his cousin Georgina and his friend Fred, they have to travel to the evil djinn’s dark kingdom to save Finn’s parents and help the good djinns in their battle against evil.
Linda Davies (2009) Fire Djinn
In this second story in the series, Finn, Georgina and Fred are back. While camping in the desert, they hear a voice calling out for lightfighters to help save it and so prevent the end of the world. Finn, Georgina and Fred answer the call, and go to Park ‘n’ Shop supermarket to stock up on supplies before leaving behind their normal expat lives to enter the world of the fire djinn.
Linda Davies (2009) Storm Djinn
This third book of the series has a more distinctly Arabic feel. It is set in Dubai, but also involves Finn, Georgina and Fred traveling to the empty quarter, entering a parallel world, and also visiting the Great Pyramid in Egypt. This is perhaps the best of the series leaving children eagerly awaiting the release of the next book, Rock Djinn.
Christopher M. Davidson (2008) Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success
For those wondering how Dubai transformed itself from being a small sleepy fishing and pearling town to a modern center of finance and commerce, this is the book they should read. It explains the formation of the UAE and the transitions that happened as it broke away from British rule. It discusses Dubai’s development after the discovery of oil and focuses on the political stability that exists despite the lack of democracy. From this it goes on to discuss socioeconomic problems which may arise in the future. It outlines how the city’s very strengths may attract unwanted elements which may damage the fragile balance that is essential for the city’s continuing success.
Rachel Pagones (2007) Dubai Millennium: A Vision Realised, a Dream Lost
On the surface, this book tells the story of Sheikh Mohammed’s efforts to transform his horse, Dubai Millennium, into the winner of the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup. Soon after its victory, it shatters a hind leg and can no longer race. This is not just a book which is of interest to racing fans. Through the story, we gain an incredible insight into the ruling family of Dubai.
Daab (2006) Dubai Architecture & Design
Dubai’s architecture is world-famous. In a short space of time, the cityscape has been transformed from the low buildings of a traditional Middle Eastern town to an ultramodern city resplendent with some of the most famous buildings in the world. Not surprisingly, the fast pace of change has meant that this book is now starting to seem dated. However, it is well written and well presented and does contain details about projects that were, at the time, still in the design stage.
Ben Mezrich (2007) Rigged: The True Story of an Ivy League Kid Who Changed the World of Oil, from Wall Street to Dubai
Reading like fiction, this is a rags-to-riches story of an Italian-American boy from Brooklyn who makes it big in Dubai. His incredible story takes the reader from his initial success of entering the Harvard Business School to the crazy world of the oil exchange in New York. After befriending a young Muslim trader, he embarks on a meteoric rise becoming rich beyond his wildest dreams and transforming the oil trading industry in the process. This expose into the world of Dubai’s uber-rich is a real eye-opener. It will help the reader gain an understanding of what goes on underneath the respectable exterior of the oil trade.
Non-fiction for parents:
Piyu Majumdar and Paul Thuysbaert (2009) Children of the Sun: Growing Up in the Gulf
This exquisitely presented hardback book gives readers a true insight into what it means for children to grow up in the desert surrounded by modern malls, theme parks, camels and sand dunes. It delves into the unique experiences of the children for whom the Gulf is home through poetry and striking photography. It allows the reader to experience the thoughts as well as the variety of different activities that these children engage in as they grow up in the region. Although not restricted to life in Dubai, this is still a good read for all parents who are planning to make their home here. A second issue of this book is due to be released in the near future.
Explorer Publishing (2009) Dubai for Parents: The All-In-One Guide To Having, Raising & Entertaining Kids In Dubai
This guide for parents in the ever popular series of Explorer guide books is a wonderful up-to-date resource for all parents in Dubai, whatever the age of their children. It will give you the low down on education, health and the wide range of activities available for children in the city. It even has information for parents-to-be about pregnancy and birth-related issues.
Explorer Publishing (2009) Dubai Street Atlas Jumbo
The lack of street names in Dubai poses a problem for newcomers and residents alike. It also creates a unique challenge for anyone wanting to create a street atlas. Explorer has risen to the challenge. In 2009, they released a large scale street atlas which manages the incredible feat of providing the exact location of every street, hotel, shopping mall, landmark, and residential and commercial building. Satellite images and detailed vector maps ensure that you will never get lost in the city again. This may be the only map of the city that you ever need to buy.
Terry Carter, Lara Dunston (2007) Lonely Planet Dubai Encounter
Carter and Dunston provide a comprehensive guide to the city. As one would expect from a Lonely Planet guide, they provide information on the best places to go and see. They have information and tips from local experts. They also take the hard work out of planning how to spend your time in Dubai by providing daily itineraries. If you are spending a limited amount of time in Dubai, this book could help you make the most out of it.
Explorer Publishing (2009) UAE Off-Road
If you want to make the most of Dubai by traveling outside the city and exploring the UAE’s outback, this guide will point you in the right direction. It contains popular routes which take you past historical sites, natural pools, wadis and camping spots. Step-by-step directions, easy-to-read maps, GPS coordinates and satellite images will help prevent you from getting lost. There are also pages of advice on what to do if you do run into problems.
David F. DiMeo (2008) Arabic For Dummies Audio Set
Although many expats get by without learning any Arabic, if you want to try and pick up the local language, this audio set in the ever popular ‘for dummies’ series will give you a head start. It will give you basic greetings and expressions. However, in a city where nearly everyone speaks English, you may have to hunt out opportunities for practicing your survival Arabic.
John Walsh (2008) UAE – Culture Smart!: a quick guide to customs and etiquette
In this surprisingly conservative country where a faux pas can lead to more than just embarrassment, Culture Smart! is your essential guide. It explains customs, traditions and values against a description of the historical, religious, political and geographical composition of the country. It provides guidance as to what you should do and what you must never do, especially for those who have business dealings with the local Emirati community.