A book about the 200 million Arabs who share a language & a variety of historical experiences, the culture of Islam — & a deep-seated uncertainty about their place in a world changing at terrifying speed. In the midst of war, enormous economic disparities, personal & ideological rivalries & threats from the outside, the Arabs are searching for their place in the modern world. Viorst, drawing upon his long personal experience as a correspondent in the Middle East, takes us into the aspirations, fears, prejudices, hopes & convictions of the inhabitants of 7 key countries, & of the people without a country — the Palestinians.
Based largely on the author's New Yorker assignments in recent years, this book offers an informative and engaging, if limited, portrait of the Arab world. Viorst's mosaic of observations on Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan and the Palestinians are spiced with effective interviews with officials, experts and village folk; Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz is an especially good guide to ``the hidden dynamics'' of his country. Two crises--the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Gulf War--overlay Viorst's reportage. Gulf War jingoists would be well-advised to read his depiction of Kuwait transformed by easy living, an Iraq which had legitimate grievances and a postwar Kurdish uprising far more complex than headline brutalities. Having spent much of the past year in Gaza and the West Bank, he also updated the book with a lengthy chapter on what the Palestinian-Israeli agreement of September 13, 1993 will mean to those areas. While Viorst certainly supports his conclusion that Arab states are ``as fragile as sandcastles,'' his avoidance of North Africa, and his lack of original Arabic source material limit his authority. (Feb.)
Viorst, a New Yorker staff writer and author of numerous books on U.S. and international political history, has made dozens of trips to the Middle East to learn the truth of, and to understand, the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis. Viorst's objectivity in reporting life there as it truly is has earned him the trust of both sides. His Sands of Sorrow: Israel's Journey from Independence ( LJ 5/1/87) dealt with Israel's political culture; Sandcastles is a ``counterpart and sequel.'' Here, he examines the history, politics, and culture of various Arab states (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan) as well as Turkey and the Palestinians. (There is a final chapter on the Palestinians written in November 1993 after the signing of the Oslo Accord). Viorst imparts a huge amount of information in a clear, descriptive style, liberally peppered with personal experiences, human interest anecdotes, humor, and reflection. Although almost deceptively easy to read, this book is no mere travelog; it is a solidly researched and carefully analyzed work. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-- Ruth K. Baacke, Whatcom Cty . Lib. System, Bellingham, Wash.