Cities of Salt might just be the most important Arabic-language novel published in the entire 20th century, as it brilliantly dramatizes what happens when oil is discovered in an unnamed Persian Gulf kingdom in the 1930s. Unsurprisingly banned in Saudi Arabia, this first volume of a quintet exploring the collision between Western industrialism and traditional ways of life — and the human and societal costs of this collision — looms larger every year that passes as a monument to truth. Recommended By Jason C., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Banned in Saudia Arabia, this is a blistering look at Arab and American hypocrisy following the discovery of oil in a poor oasis community.
"Banned in several Middle Eastern countries, this novel records the encounter between Americans and Arabs in an unnamed Gulf emirate in the 1930s. As oil exploration begins, the destruction of an oasis community amounts to "a breaking off, like death, that nothing and no one could ever heal." The promise inherent in the creation of a city divided into Arab and American sectors provides the novel's most striking revelation: here not merely two cultures, but two ages, meet and stand apart. Alternatively amused and bewildered by the Americans and their technological novelties, the Arabs sense in their accommodation to modernity the betrayal of their own traditions. Highly recommended, if only for its cross-cultural insights." Library Journal, L.M. Lewis, Eastern Kentucky Univ., Richmond
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Originally published in Beirut in 1984, this multipage epic brings to life many of the political issues that have plagued the Mideast for most of this century. Set in an unnamed gulf country that could be Jordan sometime in the 1930s, the novel relates what happens to the bedouin inhabitants of the small oasis community of Wadi al-Uyoun when oil is discovered by Americans. Seen through the eyes of a large and varied cast of bedouin characters, the upheaval caused by the American colonization is shown in various manifestations, from the first contact with the strange foreigners ("Their smell could kill birds!" observes Miteb al-Hathal, who later leads a rebellion of Arab workers when the village of Harran has been made into an American port city) to confused and suspicious descriptions of the sinister "magic" tools brought by the Americanswhich are in fact bulldozers, automobiles, radios and telephones. The story unfolds at a stately pace over a timespan of many years and provides an endless stream of characters and events, each connected to the next by many threads of plot. Theroux's sensitive translation conveys the subtleties of ambiguity and nuance inherent to the Arab language and culture. Banned in several Mideast countries including Saudi Arabia, this is the first volume of a planned trilogy by a Paris-based Jordanian novelist who holds a law degree from the Sorbonne and a Ph.D. in oil economics from the University of Belgrade. Despite the Lawrence of Arabia setting, Munif writes from a unique vantage point; English-language readers have been given few opportunities before now to look at this situation through native eyes." Publishers Weekly, Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"The only serious work of fiction that tries to show the effect of oil, Americans and the local oligarchy on a Gulf country." Edward W. Said