J.'s Reviews > The Veiled Woman, A Novel of East and West

The Veiled Woman, A Novel of East and West by Achmed Abdullah
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's review
Jul 13, 2009

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bookshelves: east-west, between-the-wars, levant

After reading the nonfiction Dreamers Of Empire, which managed a wildly enthusiastic view of Empire in general while seeing almost none of the downside, the idea of a similarly-based fiction view of the Near East seemed intriguing. But was not to be.

Achmed Abdullah-- born Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff, he of the era-crunching and nationality-bending biography (click title above) -- also wrote for the monthly general-interest magazines, it turns out, and this was almost certainly the product of compiling "this-month's-installments" circa late twenties, till you have a book.

At turns interesting and then immediately enmeshed in the kind of bright, fizzy, wonderful-young-people-all-together-laughing scenes so beloved by the Hollywood film of the day, Abdullah has done much here to hold back nearly all of his serious talent and singular viewpoint.

Occasionally though, there are flashes of who the author really is :

... For, almost eighty years of age and reputed immensely wealthy, he was a survival of that picaresque, commercial era when traffic and barter in the far lands was still a clanking, swaggering adventure, a spirited gamble with Fate, a high-hearted, two-fisted romance; when yellow men and gold still disputed the eternal Asian trade balance with white men and blood; when, the other side of Suez, a merchant-prince was still a swashbuckler upon the blue hills and the gray waters, and not a swagbellied, dollar-coining, asthmatic automaton, safely ensconced behind a mahogany desk, a pile of ledgers, a steel filing cabinet, and an army of immaculate, college-bred private secretaries...

But there were sketchy, fantasmal, lawless tales of his earlier life, his first rise to affluence. Tales of the motley, swinging forgotten days when Malay Rajah and Gulf Arab sheikh and European adventurer met behind tightly closed rattan shutters, the velvet punka flopping lazily overhead, and dipped their disreputable noses in the same cup of honeyed, spiced brandy, and winked at one another as Greek is said to wink at Greek, and played hide-and-seek with His Britannic Majesty's red-coated soldiers, and black-coated judges, and nosing, inquisitive gunboats.

Egregious, these tales. Exotic. Grotesque. "

Interesting here to note that the Business at hand was negotiating the petroleum rights in Asia Minor, Persia and Mesopotamia. Of further interest is the prose itself. Notice that this little tour-de-force is composed of six sentences --- first, a sentence of 112 words that launches the topic, and proceeding through a couple more to the final two sentences, each composed of One Word alone. This is exciting --if a bit purple-- writing, something emblematic of the subject, the era, and the man who wrote it.

But try Dreamers Of Empire rather than this one. (Which begins with a staggering thousand-word sentence as its introduction. Really.)
I'll sift through a few more Achmed Abdullah titles and see what else turns up.


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Comments (showing 1-2)

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message 2: by Daisy (new)

Daisy How is this? What a biography this guy has. Is this from the library?
I've got something you might like but I'm going to hold off recommending it till I finish it in case it takes a downward turn.
Say hi to Alenka.

message 1: by J. (new) - rated it 3 stars

J. Interesting / pulpy mix of things; I'm about twenty pgs away from the end, and I'll try to review in a balanced way. I've read one other, a non-fic by him, which was very different. More to come, I guess.

Right you are, though-- what a wild bio he's got !

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