Just for Fun… Assyrian history for the non-historian: Enter this world stretching into millennia through novels as you drop off to sleep…[1]

Eden Naby

So you are busy with a demanding job, family fun and obligations, and no time to nurture your Assyrian cultural knowledge except at the occasional New Year’s party, food festival, church service or at a cultural event like Mesopotamian Night. But you read, at least in English or whatever is the language of the country of the diaspora or the homeland. Below are some suggested readings, all fictional, some very long and some pretty short. The subjects touch on some things you already know vaguely.

Think of these as easy to digest lessons in history, true fictionalized and perhaps more hopeful than news headlines. But they are fun to read. Some are suitable for young adults; some require a more mature knowledge of life. These titles are ideal for book clubs or family reading and discussion – formal or informal.

The following list consists of works of fiction, full length books and novelettes, bound in one volume with a single author, dating from the 20th to 21st century, that are either written by Assyrians or relate to Assyrians, ancient or modern. Part I is English only; Part II are novels by Assyrians or others related to Assyrians but not in English; and, Part III are novels that relate to Assyrians but are primarily about other communities in the Middle East.

Part I. English language novels about Assyrians

  1. Amiri, Amir. A Bold Awakening. [United States]: Outskirts Press, [2015], 396 pages. 

Available from Amazon.

An imaginative adventure story set in conflicted Iraq that brings together the Assyrian diaspora to crush those who persecute Assyrians living on the Nineveh Plain and help lead toward a future autonomous safe zone. Highly readable.

  • Guild, Nicholas. The Assyrian. (Tiglath Ashur Book 1). Available from Amazon as hardcover, softcover and Kindle. (Translated into Persian and published in Tehran in 1995 through the efforts of Dr. Wilson Bet-Mansour).

A well-known historical romance set in the empire period, and which points to the multi-ethnic environment that led to Assyrian identity and strength.

  • ——–. The Blood Star (Tiglath Ashur Book 2). Available from Amazon as hardcover and Kindle.

A follow up to The Assyrian. Interesting but a little less exciting, though still worth the read.

  • David, Joe. The Infidels. 2014. (Available from Amazon as paperback).


Set on the Urmia Plain of northwest Iran during World War I, this is a more triumphal genocide and diaspora story than many. A good read.

  • Hanna, Ninos. Life for Legacy. North Charleston, South Carolina: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016, viii, 235 pages. Available from Amazon as book and kindle.

A first novel for a young author born in the US who captures the struggle of disaffectedness and hope for the Assyrian people.

  • Hay, David. No Through Road: a story of the last Assyrian campaign in Kurdistan: the nation which defied theTurkish Empire and became Britain’s smallest ally of the 1914-18 war,  Ipswich: Norman Adlard & Co., 1966,  217 pages plus map and illustrations.
  • Kakovitch, Ivan (1933-2006). Mount Semele. Alexandria, VA: Mandrill, c2002, 360 pages. Available from Amazon. Also Persian translation from Tehran (2005). 

Intended as a trilogy, the author begins in the mountainous Hakkari during World War I and carries us to the terrible time in 1933 when so many Assyrians were butchered in the villages around the northern Iraqi town of Simele, here consciously spelled like the opera by this too early deceased author.

  • Khedroo, Lawrence Glenn. Ashiret eternal: an Assyrian odyssey in Iraq. [Philadelphia, PA]: Xlibris Corp., c2003, 470 pages. 

A novel/play set during World War I in the Hakkari that is written with a cast of characters and dialogue like a play. Harvard describes it as Assyrian-Iraq fiction.

  • Kino, Nuri. The Line in the Sand: A Political Thriller about the War in Iraq. Available from Amazon as softcover and Kindle – also in Swedish (2010).

An Assyrian journalist from Sweden works the material around the contemporary Middle East.

  1.  Kochou, Montaha.  Will The Sun Rise Again? 2005. Available from Amazon.

This is Baghdad-born Mona Kochou’s second novel, the first being Burning Desire. The settings are the Middle East and the author draws on her own knowledge of the expanse and limits of love and desire customary in traditional Middle Eastern families.

  1. Malek-Yonan, Rosie. The Crimson Field: A Historical Novel. Verdugo City, CA: Pearlida Publishing, 2005, xxii, 543 pages. Available from Amazon.

A hefty novel based on family memoirs of a prominent Urmia extended family during their flight to save themselves from vicious and avaricious Muslim neighbors.

  1. McIntosh, D[Dorothy].J.  The Witch of Babylon. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2011, 399 pages, illustrated. Available from Amazon as book and Kindle.

An erudite adventure novel set in New York and the Middle East (2003 Baghdad), this work delves into antiquity with its magical facets, the vagaries of the world of collectors and the looting of ancient Nineveh. You don’t have to read cuneiform to enjoy this.

  1. Mirza, William (1904-1995). The Girl from Odda. New York: Vantage Press, 1976, 108 pages.

Probably the first novel published by an Assyrian (Modesto, 1953) about Assyrians. This is a novelette of great emotion and yearning based on World War I events in Urmia and Baghdad. Odda is a spelling adopted for the prosperous Assyrian village of Ada. Hard to find but worth digitizing.

  1. Timmerman, Kenneth R. St. Peter’s Bones. Cassiopeia Press, 2011, 294 pages. Available from Amazon.

Set in the early Middle Ages in Rome as it is sacked by Muslim invaders (Saracens), the bones of the “rock – Keepa” on which the early Western church is built must be hidden away for protection. This takes us to a monastery in 21st century Iraq and the secrets it has held for centuries that are coveted by Muslim radicals. A possible Indiana Jones sequel?

Part II. Other fiction related to Assyrians or by Assyrians

  1. ʻĪsā, Mīšāʾēl Lāʻāzār. Tūnāyē d-Mīšāʾēl Lāʻāzār ʻĪsā: dūbāqā qa(d)māyā [The narratives of Mishael Lazar Isa: volume one], El Sobrante, California: Youel A. Baaba Library, 1991, 224 pages.

A collection of short-stories and essays by the late Assyrian author, Mishael Lazar Isa.

In Modern Syriac/Neo-Aramaic (at Harvard University Library and other locations).

  • Šmūʾēl Bēt-Kulyā d-Gūgtappāh. Sāpar d-Qaššīšā Ṣlībū l-Šmayyā: yan ʻĒdtā gūbītā d-Bābil biyahbaylāh šlāmā ʼillokon: 2 Paṭros 5:13 [The Journey of the Priest Ṣlivu to Heaven], Tehran: Maṭbaʻtā d-Siʻtā Siprāytā da-ʻLaymē Ātorāyē, 1962, 231 pages.

From the illustrious Geogtapa family of Bet-Kolia, the author (b. 1889) was a prolific author and journal article writer with many books to his credit. In this novel, Priest Ṣlivu meets the Old Testament figures like Adam, Noah etc.

  • Sidar, İlhami. Bedirhan: Bir cudî söylencesi. Beyoğlu, İstanbul: Aram Yayıncılık, 2003, 378 pages.

Assyrian–Kurdish topic published by Kurds in Turkish. Sidar (b. 1965) has two other novels  (Tehma xweliyê, Jan) in Kurdish published in Diyarbakır by Aram.

  • Shimon, Samuel. An Iraqi in Paris: an autobiographical novel. Translated from Arabic. London: Banipal Books, 2005, 249 pages (also translated into German and Swedish).

From the editor of the periodical Banipal (Paris, London) comes this novel that has many translations.

  • ————, editor. Baghdad noir. Brooklyn, New York: Akashic Books, 2018, , 291 pages: map; 21 cm.

A short story collection in the “noir” category all seemingly written by Iraqis of several ethnic origins. Shimun is an Assyrian novelist, publisher (of Banipal periodical), poet and prolific writer of Iraqi origin. Born in 1956, his first book of poetry (in Arabic) was published in 1995 by Gilgamesh Publishing House (Dār Jiljāmish).

Part III. Novels primarily about others but with Assyrian content

  1. Schauffler, Rachel Capen. The Goodly Fellowship. New York: Macmillan Co., 1912 (reprinted by Nebu Press, 2010), English, 325 pages, eBook 2009.  

A novel loosely based around the murder of one of the family of Labaree missionaries in 1904 by a Kurd, and the lives of Urmia’s American  missionaries. Based on correspondence received. Available on Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/goodlyfellowship00schaiala.

  • Heller, Joseph. Catch 22 (a classic American novel with an Assyrian hero),  New York: Simon and Shuster, 2011 [50th anniversary edition]. Available from Amazon in paperback, kindle and audible books.

A leading American novelist of the 20th century set this novel in World War II with a hero-soldier who is ethnic Assyrian.

  • Varandyan, Emmanuel P. The Well of Ararat. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc., 1938, 343 pages. Reprinted in 2013 with an introduction by Eden Naby.

Though its central focus is on Armenians from the multiethnic village of Iryava, this excellent novel about Urmia during World War I approaches the Armenian fate with an Assyrian component. Available from Amazon.

  • Ya’akovi, Orah (O. Jacobi). Urmia in the Shadow of the Owl: a 2,624 years journey. Israel: 2012, 235 pages. 

Chiefly about Jewish communities in Eastern Turkey and Western Azerbaijani areas during World War I, this novel intermittently follows the fate of two Aramaic-speaking friends in Urmia, a Jewish  girl and an Assyrian one. Available from Amazon.

Part IV. Other works that are related & recommended

  1. O’Neill, Joseph. Netherland. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008. 

O’Neill (an attorney) is a prolific novelist and memoirist who claims to be half-Irish, half-Turkish. But, according to his memoirs, his mother was born and raised in Mersin, Turkey, and belonged to the Syrian Catholic Church – hence his “Turkishness.” The novel, or at least this one, makes no reference to the Middle East. The author has other novels too and has won prizes.

  • Halo, Thea. Not Even my Name: From a death march in Turkey to a new home in America, a young girl’s true story of genocide and survival. New York: Picador USA, 2000, 321 pages, [8] pages of plates.

By an author with an Assyrian father and Pontic Greek mother. A memoir/tale competently told of, among other things, the post-genocide problem of marriage of female survivors and overseas laboring bachelors, a post-World War I theme that effected physical and cultural survival of Assyrians in diaspora.

[1]  Please note the article by J. F. Coakley about three other novels in English that relate to Assyrians. “Assyrian Christians in English Fiction, 1849-1967.” Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies 23:2 (2009), pp. 18-25.

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