An Imperialist Love Story

Desert Romances and the War on Terror

288 pages

3 halftones

July, 2015

ISBN: 9781479820863



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Amira Jarmakani is an Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Affiliated Faculty of the Middle East Institute at Georgia State University. She is the author of Imagining Arab Womanhood: The Cultural Mythology of Veils, Harems, and Belly Dancers in the U.S.

All books by Amira Jarmakani

A curious figure stalks the pages of a distinct subset of mass-market romance novels, aptly called “desert romances.” Animalistic yet sensitive, dark and attractive, the desert prince or sheikh emanates manliness and raw, sexual power. In the years since September 11, 2001, the sheikh character has steadily risen in popularity in romance novels, even while depictions of Arab masculinity as backward and violent in nature have dominated the cultural landscape.   
An Imperialist Love Story contributes to the broader conversation about the legacy of orientalist representations of Arabs in Western popular culture. Combining close readings of novels, discursive analysis of blogs and forums, and interviews with authors, Jarmakani explores popular investments in the war on terror by examining the collisions between fantasy and reality in desert romances. Focusing on issues of security, freedom, and liberal multiculturalism, she foregrounds the role that desire plays in contemporary formations of U.S. imperialism. Drawing on transnational feminist theory and cultural studies, An Imperialist Love Story offers a radical reinterpretation of the war on terror, demonstrating romance to be a powerful framework for understanding how it works, and how it perseveres.


  • “Jarmarkani investigates ‘desert romances,’ i.e., pulp novels set in an imagined ‘Arabiastan’ and prominently featuring a sheikh or prince who is powerfully virile yet deeply sensitive and gratifyingly susceptible to the charms of the Western heroine.”


  • “Jarmakani’s monograph is of particular interest to feminist literary scholars, especially those working with romance novels and/or with post-9/11 fiction.”

    Feminist Theory

  • An Imperialist Love Story is a cutting edge piece of scholarship, exploring the fascinating tension between a resurgence in popular desert romances at a cultural moment in which Arab masculinity is understood as violent and threatening. Offering a radical reinterpretation of the power of mass-market engagements with the Middle East, Jarmakani analyzes the role that fantasy and desire play in the construction of U.S. imperialism. Beautifully written and enjoyable to read, this book will generate debate in many different circles, for many years to come.”

    —Sarah Gualtieri, author of Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora