Thursday, 29 January 2009

Deserts and oceans

In his short critical account of Naguib Mahfouz (TLS 23 Jan 09) Robert Irwin notes that ‘although so much of the Middle East is desert, this hardly features in modern Arabic fiction, which is overwhelmingly urban in its concerns.’ But why is this surprising? Fiction is about people, not landscapes; therefore it goes where the people are. It would be like saying, ‘if we define the UK by its territorial boundaries, then overwhelmingly it is water—yet it novelists focus only on its land-based inhabitants: where are the novels of its fishermen and oil-riggers in the North and Irish Seas, the Channel and the Atlantic?’

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