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Cities of Salt

Cities of Salt

4.5 2
by Abdelrahman Munif, Peter Theroux (Translator), Erroll McDonald (Editor)

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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 Saudia Arabia, this is a blistering look at Arab and American hypocrisy following the discovery of oil in a poor oasis community.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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. (January 27)
Library Journal
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, meetand 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.L.M. Lewis, Eastern Kentucky Univ., Richmond

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
International Series
Edition description:
1st Vintage International ed
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.02(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.13(d)

What People are Saying About This

Graham Greene
An Arab novel -- and an excellent one at that. It opens up new vistas to the imagination.

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Cities of Salt 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
dlathrop More than 1 year ago
munif was recommended by a syrian friend as a way to both experience the roots of arab culture and how the oil industrialization of the world changed everything... and how we feel that today in terms of cultural misunderstandings, terrorism, isolationism, etc... i have read this whole series and i really recommend Munif...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A masterpiece of Arab literature. Hands down one of the best novels about the Persian Gulf region, and by far the best account of two cultures meeting at the intersection of oil and modernity. A long if fascinating account. There's a reason Munif is regarded as a master of his craft.