Middle East/North African Lit discussion

Cities of Salt (مدن الملح #1)
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2011cruise book diving(official) > Cities of Salt (July / September 2011)

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message 1: by Ingy (last edited Jul 05, 2011 12:13PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ingy (ngnoah) Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif is a very controversial tale, about a closed and conservative society, rarely understood for what it is, commonly thought of as an exotic place that belongs more to the middle ages.. That is the Arabian Peninsula at the time of the greatest changes in the history of this region: Oil discoveries.
The story with its 5 parts go deep inside this society to analyse it and see the differences in it after these discoveries.
The book is banned in Saudi Arabia, since it goes deep inside this very closed and conservative society that anyone rarely gets to know for real.. Abdelrahman Munif says he knows. Does he?
What did that man see? What was it that he wrote that caused the book to be banned?
Let's find out..


message 2: by Kit (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kit Just started "Cities of Salt." The first few pages were hard to comprehend. Don't understand why they were not told about the oil drilling. The culture seemed so fragile. Its starting to pick up.


Ingy (ngnoah) Yes I too thought it will be hard to understand Kit.. I hope it gets better :))
Who else is reading it?


Anne (On semi-hiatus) (reachannereach) I have it but I'm not reading it yet.


Lauren | 138 comments My copy is waiting for nme at the library. I'm ready to give it a go (she says, cracking her knuckles)


Marahm | 31 comments I'm eighty pages in, and I love it. I do not find it hard to understand at all, maybe because I lived in Saudi Arabia for twelve years, and am familiar with the cultural references, as well as the naming system, which can be confusing.

For instance, the character Miteb is sometimes referred to as Abu-Thweiny, because Thweiny is Miteb's son. Arabs commonly address men as Abu So-and-so, and women as Um So-and-so, using the names of their first-born sons.

I actually love the slow, intense, in-depth style of writing that produces 600+ pages. The author takes his time, wanting the reader to perceive the characters in their full humanity, not just as simple villagers on the cusp of a cataclysmic change that will alter the basic structure of their life-view, and not necessarily for the better.

This is why he does not begin straightaway with the oil-drilling story. You'll see, Kit; when you get to the part where the Americans first come in to survey the land, you will better appreciate the impact upon the villagers' lives after having read the first few pages.


message 7: by Kit (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kit Marahm wrote: "I'm eighty pages in, and I love it. I do not find it hard to understand at all, maybe because I lived in Saudi Arabia for twelve years, and am familiar with the cultural references, as well as the ..."

I should have said that, I find it hard to believe that they would just "throw the locals into this." I know that probably happens in real life-but its such a huge culture shock and causes so many problems. I almost done with the book (last 100 pages). And now all the major problems, prejudices, etc of forcing two unique, different cultures is coming to light. I think its depressing to see how the Arab culture reacts. And the new sub-culture that forms, as the so called "betrayers" of the culture start to form.

I like the way he writes-you basically experience the culture shock along with the characters; however, I think its a little to drawn out!


Marahm | 31 comments I don't know how it happened in real life, when the Americans went to Saudi Arabia to drill for oil, but I was surprised when, in the book, no one attempted to explain to the villagers what was happening to their environment.

Sure, they visited the emir, who said that the Americans would bring oil and gold out of the ground, but that was hardly a satisfactory explanation.


Ingy (ngnoah) Kit and Marahm.. The book is not totally fictional, you know.. I bet this is what happened in real life when the Americans came!


message 10: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
And it was banned in Saudi Arabia....

I think the emir made arrangements for his own purposes; it wasn't necessary from his pov to tell the villagers. I've read this book twice but it's been awhile...I love it. It really opened my eyes to how things probably look from a completely different perspective.


Marahm | 31 comments You're right, Marieke, the emir probably couldn't have cared less about the shock and discomfort of the villagers when their homes were destroyed. Already I am seeing a new perspective on the oil phenomenon.

Back to the naming issue, the character Miteb is also called Ibn Hathal, in addition to Abu Thweiny. The book does not explain that all three of these names refer to the same person. If anyone reading this thread is uncertain about who is who in the book, please ask!


Marahm | 31 comments NG, the author is well-placed to have written this book, but I still wonder how much of it is true. Of course, he had to have written it as a novel, yet even as a novel, the truth of it got him into trouble.

Nowdays, he might have labeled it Creative Nonfiction, but then he'd have had to name certain names, certain dates.

His biography is interesting in itself:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdul_Ra...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2004/f...


message 13: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara (barbarasc) | 48 comments Cities of Salt looks like a fantastic book. I'm hoping to pick up a copy this week so I can participate in the discussion with all of you.


message 14: by Ingy (last edited Jul 11, 2011 01:30PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ingy (ngnoah) I'm still in the beginning but I like the way those people are, how simple their life is, for them life and dealing with others is not complicated at all.. it's either black or white. No grey area..
Now I'm expecting traumatic changes when oil comes into picture.

I'm reading the Arabic version and it's not easy to understand all dialogs... Some expressions are proper Bedouin expressions that I am not familiar with.. :))

Marahm & Marieke, I don't know why, but I too think that the emir didn't care about his people and what would happen to them.. but I think that maybe it's because he himself never really understood how deep change will be!
Anyway it's just a thought.. I'm still not there yet.

Barbara, waiting for you dear.. It looks like it will be a very good conversation :))


message 15: by Sue (new)

Sue | 628 comments I'm still catching up on books from the last cycle but hope to get to this in the next week or so. Great to see such an animated and interesting discussion. Sounds like a good book.


message 16: by Ingy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ingy (ngnoah) Waiting for you Sue, Anne and Lauren :D


message 17: by Kit (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kit It's interesting to see how the culture is progressing with each new introduction (ie. trucking business, etc.). I guess I'm not surprised at the way people within take sides. Sometimes its a little hard to judge which way they will side. On the whole, I find the book very impressive. And I agree, that this is probably a fictional account of the "real thing." I think most governments keep the populations in the dark-what we don't know won't hurt!! :(


message 18: by Ingy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ingy (ngnoah) Kit wrote: "It's interesting to see how the culture is progressing with each new introduction (ie. trucking business, etc.). I guess I'm not surprised at the way people within take sides. Sometimes its a lit..."

I'm happy you like the book :)

And yeah.. I think this is how governments usually do! :S


Lauren | 138 comments Its a fascinating novel and I like the pace. I think it probably mirrors the way change actually came to the community.

The tractors just bulldozed the orchards.

Given the state of things, It would not surprise me at all to see a government selling out its own people. Greed is a powerful motivator!


Anne (On semi-hiatus) (reachannereach) I've been waiting to start reading it because I didn't get any posts. Darn GRs. I will start reading it to keep up with those of you who are reading it. If I don't understand references I will ask all of you experts questions.


message 21: by Niledaughter (new) - added it

Niledaughter | 2787 comments Mod
It is one of the most famous and huge novels , I am so sad it is out of stock here :( but it is on my to-read list .


message 22: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara (barbarasc) | 48 comments I haven't been able to find this book! I live in NYC, and we have HUGE Border's and Barnes & Nobles here. I've been to one Border's and two different B&N and it hasn't been at any of them!!!

I may have to order it online, but I really prefer to see a book before I buy it. It's over 600 pages and I just want to make sure it's not too heavy to carry around, AND, I like to read a few pages in a book before I buy it (and the typeface that's used is important to me too.)

I know, I know -- I'm a bit neurotic when it comes to books. Once I get a Kindle or a Nook none of this will matter anymore. I may get a Nook in around a month.


message 23: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
I recently got the Nook touch and I'm totally in love with it, Barbara. It was a difficult decision between kindle and nook for many reasons that would bore you to tears, but I am insanely happy with my nook.


message 24: by Sue (new)

Sue | 628 comments Marieke, I may get an ereader next year so I may talk with you about your experiences with the Nook touch at some point.

Barbara, I borrowed Cities of Salt from the Library. It's an odd shaped book...I'll estimate ca 6" by 9" high and about 2" deep. (at least my edition which is hardcover, 1989)


message 25: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
I have a paperback vintage international. It's bulky, but can be carried.

I'd be happy to offer thoughts on my nook experience. :D


message 26: by Sue (new)

Sue | 628 comments thanks Marieke. Right now I have Nook on my PC and kindle on my netbook so I've been accumulating free and inexpensive offerings from both. My niece has a Nook but not the new one.


message 27: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara (barbarasc) | 48 comments Hi Marieke and Sue!!! Thank you for your responses!

Sue -- that does sound like an odd shaped book! That's why I always like to see a book before I get it -- I guess I DO judge books by their cover (and size!!) LOL.

Marieke -- I'm leaning more toward the Nook because there are B&N stores all over (I live in NYC) and I just thought it would be nice to be able to just stop into a B&N whenever I have a problem or question regarding the Nook.

I did a bit of a comparison on Nook vs. Kindle, and believe it or not, I think it said that the Nook has more titles!! The only benefit that the Kindle seemed to have is that you can get audio versions of the books you're reading on the Kindle, but not the Nook.

I would love to hear more about your experience with your Nook!

THANKS!!!
Barbara


message 28: by Sue (new)

Sue | 628 comments Barbara...you can buy either one at many other places too. My niece works at Best Buy and has become a bit of an expert on these devices so she can also help me. I also like the idea of haviing the stores available. Since I have kindle on my netbook which is sort of portable, I guess that's another factor for me to think of.

What I will really need to do is work with it...I bet that's what you will need too.


message 29: by Marieke, Former moderator (last edited Jul 21, 2011 06:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
My reading experience has been great. The nook touch is so lightweight and I like the touchscreen. Some people don't like that so I would recommend trying it in the store. Supposedly this will change, but for now, you cannot borrow e-books from your public library with the kindle, but you can with the nook.

I have had an audible account for a couple of years and that is how I get my audio books... I prefer having an mp3 player to listening on an e-reader because I like to listen to audio books when I am doing chores around the house...so I don't miss not having that capability with the nook. The nook also let's you download from Google books, which kindle does not. Anyway, I'm very happy with my nook. I take it everywhere. I'm a passenger in a car for my commute and I'm able to read in the car. Somehow I cannot read actual books in the car, but I am able to read on my nook.

I hope you're able to get Cities of Salt one way or another!


Marahm | 31 comments I have to jump in and cheer for Kindle. Page turning is much faster than Nook. I also hated the Nook touch screen-- bought the Nook first, then returned it next day and bought Kindle.


message 31: by Sue (new)

Sue | 628 comments Oh the confusion of it all. My niece has promised me a tutorial with them both. I can't do anything until early next year, so I'm not looking at them right now. By the time I look they'll probably each have more models out.


message 32: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer Abdo | 81 comments I also have to cheer for kindle! :)

The cost and what you get internet-wise was a factor since I was deciding whether to go with ipad, nook or kindle or something else entirely. I liked that the nook was color and had better internet functions, but then I thought, why not spring for the ipad, then if I wanted to blog and whatnot on the go. Then I thought, with kids, how much on the go blogging can one actually do? Might as well go for Kindle as it's cheaper. Price was also a big consideration.

I think nook has more lending and better compatibility (mp4s instead of the weird MOBI files for Kindle), so this made me think even though Kindle had the right price, e-ink, weight.

Another big issue for me was backlighting. Ipad and nook are LCD or backlit, which annoys me when I'm on the computer awhile. Also not being able to see it well at an angle or in sunlight, etc would be super annoying. I don't actually know how good or bad the backlighting is on these devices, but the e-ink that looks like a written page was more what I was looking for.

A slightly less important issue was weight. I wanted to be able to hold it for a few hours like I would a book. That crossed out the ipad again. Nook was close in weight, maybe slightly heavier.

The no lighting situation on Kindle would have been an issue, but they have a nice cover that has a really nice retractable light, which I love. It is a bit bright for others, like when I read in bed and my husband wants to sleep, but other than that, it's perfect! :)

It was kind of a toss up for me with Kindle vs Nook- maybe the price and backlight issues probably made Kindle my choice.

That was long! Sorry! That's what I remember from my search last year.

Jennifer


message 33: by Sue (new)

Sue | 628 comments Thanks! Those are all good points to keep in mind.


message 34: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
I'll make a thread for e-readers. But real quick the nook touch is not backlit like the nook color.


Catherine  Mustread (cuiblemorgan) | 41 comments Catching up on the comments now that I've placed my bookmark on page 51, end of Chapter 5 in my edition, which I've borrowed from the library. Hope I'll be able to renew it as it does seem interesting and well written. The short chapters make this long novel slightly less daunting.

I enjoyed reading about the effect of the Americans first arriving and the terrible smell they leave behind them. How ironic! [Of course Americans always think they are doing things for the best of the locals and can't understand why they are not appreciated more for the "progress" they bring, if they think about it at all. My comment, not the author's.]

I'll be interested in following the discussion. The translator of the English edition is Peter Theroux, younger brother of travel writer Paul Theroux. Peter is also the author of a non-fiction book about Saudi Arabia written in 1991, Sandstorms: Days and Nights in Arabia, and has translated several other books from Arabic into English.

When I think how long it takes to read an epic book like this, it always makes me think how long it must have taken to write it and then translating would not be a quick job either.


message 36: by Ingy (last edited Jul 23, 2011 05:13AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ingy (ngnoah) Catherine wrote: "When I think how long it takes to read an epic book like this, it always makes me think how long it must have taken to write it and then translating would not be a quick job either. "

Well that's a happy thought! it makes me think that reading the book is really easy task! :D

I'm going very slow in the book. I'm reading it from my laptop screen which is not a joyful thing to do at all!


Lauren | 138 comments Life is really interfering with my reading right now. Between the heat and seeing an old friend from my teenage years (long ago, people) this week, my mind has been elsewhere.

But I am determined to climb back on.


message 38: by Ingy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ingy (ngnoah) Lauren wrote: "Life is really interfering with my reading right now. Between the heat and seeing an old friend from my teenage years (long ago, people) this week, my mind has been elsewhere.

But I am determi..."


It seems it's a very busy month for most of us :)
It's ok, we're all trying to catch up...


Lauren | 138 comments I finished Cities of Salt last night. What a rewarding read - not unlike Achebe's Things Fall Apart. There is something elegiac about this novel - it almost feels geologic - I don't know how else to express it - the sense of something shifting slowly and irrevocably. Fantastic book.

does anyone know exactly why the book is banned in KSA?


Marahm | 31 comments I do not understand this: "...the Americans first arriving and the terrible smell they leave behind them." The book mentions the "terrible smell" of Americans more than once, but I still don't get it.

Americans are near fanatics about personal odors, or squashing them, I should say. Every American risks social ostracism at worst, or office gossip, at best, if he/she does not shower and use anti-persperant religiously. So what other "terrible smell" could have been attributed to the Americans?


message 41: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
Maybe they just smelled *different*? nasty perfume? i'm curious if any non-Americans might clue us in...don't worry, you won't offend! we will probably have a laugh.


message 42: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
i don't know/can't recall, Lauren, about the reasons it was banned...i suspect that even though it is a novel and the country is never named, it was considered perhaps a bit too "truthy." ???


Lauren | 138 comments It certainly put the emir in a bad light and was very critical of the Americans over all. It also suggests that there was saudis or bedouins who colluded with the americans. I just wondered if there was a specific thing.

But I suppose in a country where there are so many constraints on free speech, it won't take much.

I thought the smell was metaphorical.


message 44: by Ghada (new)

Ghada Arafat | 235 comments Lauren u r right. I did not read the book but in the arab world we use bad smell when we say something bad is hapening or about to happen. Itis kid of "something fishy" in the west.


message 45: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
Ah! Yes, we do say that something "smells fishy" or "doesn't smell right" if something seems...wrong.


Lauren | 138 comments Like Hamlet - something is rotten in the state of Denmark.


Marahm | 31 comments Ah, metaphorical! That makes sense, except that the language does not suggest anything metaphorical. Perhaps one of our Arabic speakers could look up those passages and comment upon whether or not the original Arabic tells us whether the smell is metaphorical or actual.


message 48: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
Marahm wrote: "Ah, metaphorical! That makes sense, except that the language does not suggest anything metaphorical. Perhaps one of our Arabic speakers could look up those passages and comment upon whether or not ..."

i had a similar thought...that even though the translation is excellent, metaphor is difficult to convey. sometimes i think footnotes are helpful with idioms and whatnot don't translate well.


message 49: by Ingy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ingy (ngnoah) I'm not there yet but the smell might be perfume alright...
Bedouins usually use Musk for perfume, it has a very strong smell that one cannot get used to easily, which makes other types of "artificial" perfumes doesn't smell good for them. I think so..


message 50: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
NG, are you reading the Arabic or English?


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