VARIATIONS ON NIGHT AND DAY by Abdelrahman Munif

VARIATIONS ON NIGHT AND DAY

Vol. III of Cities of Salt
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The final installment of Munif's Cities of Salt trilogy, first published in 1989, offers still another view of the same historical subject: the corruption of traditional Arab values when Western allegiances substitute power and money for family and tribal loyalties. Munif's hero this time is Sultan Khureybit of Mooran, whose 1930's friendship with the British surveyor Hamilton makes him the natural instrument of London's notion that a single strong sheikh in the area will be easier to deal with than the usual endless wrangle. Accordingly, Khureybit looks beyond the normal means of consolidating his power--alliances with other chieftains and wholesale marriages with their daughters--and begins to attack his neighbors with quiet backing from abroad. With the flight of Ibn Madi, sultan of Awali, Khureybit's dominion seems secure. But his alliances force him closer to friends worse than his enemies--from the ferocious chieftain Ibn Mayyah, who refuses to take prisoners during the siege of Awali, to his latest wife Najma, whose entrance into his harem sets off a firestorm of backbiting and violence. Tale's end finds Khureybit still riding high--backed by the British crown and seconded by Hamilton, now called Abdelsamad on his conversion to Islam--but he's become a paper tiger, an absurd figure whose power struggles with his old allies even within his family--fights he can't possibly lose, though they strip him of everything he once loved--grow increasingly farcical. Munif is no Euro-basher, as his sympathetic, incisive portrait of Hamilton, the most compelling of his characters, shows. All the more impressive, then, is his satirical review of a calamitous series of cultural exchanges that leaves his Arab potentate bloated with borrowed power and utterly without grace or dignity.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-57673-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993