|About the Book|
Written and published after the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and before the Gulf Wars that followed, Peter Therouxs book about working as a journalist in the Middle East seems at first a little dated, but eventually its point of view assumes a kind of currency. The political alliances of Arab and nonArab nations in the Middle East are, in his telling, like constantly shifting sands, and appearances are forever deceiving. In one form or another the past is all present anyway. Eventually, any point in time is nearly as good as any other. Or so it seems in this entertaining, informative, and sometimes confusing book.What Theroux sets out to do is to shatter every easy Western assumption about life and history in the Middle East. With something of his brother Pauls eye for the incongruous, he tends to dwell on contradictions, ironies, and hypocrisies, and just about no one escapes being revealed as an unreliable narrator of the stories they have to tell. Most revealing in this regard is his account of working as a journalist in Saudi Arabia, a monarchy awash in oil wealth and a brand of radically conservative Islam. From this vantage point, we see the rivalries, prejudices, and grievances that characterize the Saudi view of other Middle Eastern nations. The Israelis, we begin to see, are only at the end of a sliding scale of animosity directed at everybody else in the region, including surprisingly the Palestinians. Change location to another country, as Theroux visits Cairo, then Jerusalem, then Damascus, and the perspectives are all altered again. Altogether, the book is like trying to view the Middle East through a kaleidoscope.Some focus is gratefully achieved in the final chapters as Theroux visits novelist Abdelrahman Munif, whose classic work of fiction City of Salt he has translated. Ironically, in the company of a writer of fiction, he brings the reader to a clarity of vision that the earlier chapters of the book have shown to be utterly elusive. Maybe dated, but still a fascinating look at worlds that remain a mystery to most Westerners.