June Books 14) Cities of Salt, by Abdelrahman Munif

A rather tough read about the arrival of the American oil companies in an unnamed Arab statelet, and the social disruption that this inflicts on the population.

I like the way in which the “Americans” are shown as alien beings, as the Other in a hitherto stable and settled society; I think that being shown oneself (and for these purposes I am certainly an “American”) as others see one is always a good thing, and Munif does this blisteringly well.

I think he is not as good as Chinua Achebe at demonstrating the disruptive impact of western colonialism on the local society. Perhaps (though I would be dubious about making this comparison) that impact was less in the Gulf States than in Nigeria. Munif has existing power structures (the emir) being reinforced and distorted in their authority by the arrival of the outsiders. Achebe has the local power structures devastated beyond repair.

Both Munif and Achebe present a somewhat pre-lapsarian view of the original societies. Achebe is worse in this respect, but it is still notable that Munif’s story is told almost entirely – apart from two or three chapters out of 77 – from the point of view of the male characters; I don’t think there are more than half a dozen women named in the book.

Anyway, an educational read, but I would have liked a bit more nuance in the narrative.

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1 Response to June Books 14) Cities of Salt, by Abdelrahman Munif

  1. inulro says:

    I finally got a copy of War and Peace for Christmas. I was wondering whether it would be best to read a little at a time for a long-term project, or just dive in and only read one book one of these months.

    I can’t believe I’ve never read it, given how much Russian literature I read in my 20s.

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