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New Left Review 37, January-February 2006


The remarkable life and literary career of Abd al-Rahman Munif, author of the Cities of Salt quintet. Sabry Hafez charts the emergence of Munif’s searing fictions. Evocations of desert traditions, foreign interference, the deformities of despotism and lessons of resistance.

SABRY HAFEZ

AN ARABIAN MASTER

The premature death of Abd al-Rahman Munif on 24 January 2004 brought to an end the career of not only a major Arab novelist but also one of the most remarkable figures of contemporary world literature. It is difficult to think of another writer, in any language, whose life experience and literary enterprise has the same kind of dramatic range—or whose writing remains under posthumous ban in his homeland. Among Middle Eastern societies, the Saudi kingdom has notoriously been in the rearguard of any kind of modern culture. Yet this is the society that was to produce, however indirectly and involuntarily, one of the most advanced and incendiary writers of the Arab world, politically active as militant or technician across five countries, author of fifteen novels—including the most monumental of all modern narratives in Arabic—and another nine books of non-fiction. It will take some time for the scale and detail of this achievement to be fully registered. But an interim account is overdue.

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