Illness and Disability

Herewith a list of recent books about illness and disability and the transformative changes that happen to us during these journeys with the body. Some of these works are fictional, and others are memoirs.


The cover to The Critical Case of a Man Called K by Aziz MohammedAziz Mohammed

The Critical Case of a Man Called K

Trans. Humphrey Davies


Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, this work is now translated into English and charts a young man’s journey with illness. The protagonist, K, is fascinated with Franz Kafka’s work and decides to write his own diary entries. Readers are able to peer into his life, thoughts, and traumas, and yet we don’t know enough about him. Always keeping his readers at bay, K searches for meaning and belonging in his home, job, and amongst his family. Diagnosed with leukemia, he is left to face society’s stigmatization of illness. K’s insights into life, social pressures, and his reflections on death are powerfully engaging and enlightening. Humorous, tragic, and ultimately a universal novel about what it means to be unwell and excruciatingly lonely. This novel is so rich that it demands a second read as we revisit K’s diary entries to follow his account of cancer and the emotional turmoil he describes.


The cover to This Is Not a Pity Memoir by Abi MorganAbi Morgan

This Is Not a Pity Memoir


This is a candid and beautifully crafted memoir about love, family, and illness. Abi Morgan, award-winning screenwriter and playwright, returns home to find that her partner, Jacob, has collapsed. This is the beginning of an excruciating journey through illness that leaves Jacob unable to recognize her. As Abi navigates the challenges brought upon by Jacob’s sudden deterioration, we are left wondering what we would do if faced with similar life-changing dilemmas. While this is not a pity memoir, this is definitely a memoir about empathy, resilience, and finding hope (and love) in the darkest places.




The cover to Why Do You Dance When You Walk? by Abdourahman A. WaberiAbdourahman A. Waberi

Why Do You Dance When You Walk?

Trans. Nicole Ball & David Ball

With a curious title, this autobiographical novel follows poet, essayist, and novelist Abdourahman Waberi’s childhood in Djibouti. His mother tongue is Swahili, and he writes in French. Waberi’s daughter asks him, “Why Do You Dance When You Walk?” and this question sends him into his past, revisiting childhood trauma and his experience with disability, self-loathing, and the eventual sense of belonging he finds in literature. This is a moving account of parental love, memory and loss, and the stigmatization of disability. Waberi weaves together stories of his past in order to convey to his daughter (and the reader) what it means to heal from a traumatic past and a difficult relationship with one’s body.




The cover to Among the Almond Trees by Hussein BarghouthiHussein Barghouthi

Among the Almond Trees: A Palestinian Memoir

Trans. Ibrahim Muhawi

Seagull Books

A beautiful literary memoir that intertwines the concepts of home, memory, and illness. The Palestinian poet chronicles his illness, cancer, and return to his hometown, Ramallah, in Palestine. Barghouthi laments the loss of home, the body, and his struggle to make peace wndings. Israel’s colonial violence is part of this narrative of humanity, birth and rebirth, and a sense of nostalgia that haunts the work. The value that Barghouthi finds in his life, illness, and multiple losses is found in stories and storytelling. A good place to start if you haven’t read any of Barghouthi’s work.

Photo by Dina Assad

Shahd Alshammari is a Kuwaiti author, poet, and academic. She is the author of the books Notes on the Flesh and Head above Water as well as numerous other academic publications and papers. Her areas of research include gender studies, illness narratives, and disability studies.