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Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Fiction from Saudi Arabia: Overview in The National

Literary Saloon helpfully points the reader to an excellent article from The National on publishing in Saudi Arabia. Rather than focusing (as might be expected) on censorship, Kelly McEvers offers some provocative thoughts about the form of the novel, its introduction to Saudi culture, the role of creative writing teaching in husbanding a certain kind of "sellable" fiction -- and draws welcome attention to Saudi fiction master Abdelrahmane Munif, whose books were banned in Saudi but are still published outside the country (in "monochromatic covers and simple fonts") and shipped in. McEvers notes that Munif's books now compete with
what one critic has called a tsunami of Saudi writing: some 50 to 100 novels published each year, up from five to 10 in years past. That’s partly due to the 2007 release of Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea, a diaristic account of four upper-class young women and their illicit love affairs, set here in the capital. Trashy? Maybe. But also a rare look into a once-forbidden realm of experience, and an undeniable catalyst
. But there are also emerging writers:
Raja Alem, Abdul Hal, Ahmed Abu Dahman, Mohammed Hasan Alwan and Yousef al-Mohaimeed, whose book, Wolves of the Crescent Moon, was translated into English and published by Penguin in 2007.
Could Penguin's comment in the Readers' Guide to the book -- that
banned in his own country, the novel and its characters have now found voice in the United States.
- hint at a new rationale for English-language publishing of the Saudi "tsunami"? That is, out of a combination of liberalism akin to Bush's "feminist" rationale for invading Afghanistan coupled with the desire to have another Midnight's Children on their hands...

No wonder that ends with a quote from Saudi film director and screenwriter Hana al Omair.
“I know good writers who are working on novels but don’t want them to be published at this moment,” she says. “They don’t want to be seen as part of this fad, this tsunami. They would rather wait until things quiet down again.”

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