THE ARAB WORLD: Personal Encounters by Elizabeth Warnock & Robert A. Fernea Fernea

THE ARAB WORLD: Personal Encounters

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Ferneas are an American couple who have spent various periods of time in various parts of the Arab world since 1956; he is a cultural anthropologist, and both now teach at the U. of Texas. The book is structured to reflect the diversity of their Arab encounters, along with their personal and professional experience: a chapter on a country--half from 1981, apropos of making a film on women's changing role--starts with a chatty, journal-like account by Elizabeth Furnea (""B.J."") and concludes with formal ""Comment,"" in standard academese, by (one presumes) Robert Furnea. No aspect of this arrangement is particularly felicitous. The lead-off section contrasts 1956 and 1981 Lebanon: a cosmopolitan oasis become a fragmented battleground. B.J. is chided by Arab women friends for American consumerism (understandably: near PLO headquarters she remarks on ""Italian men's shirts at incredible reductions""), and asks what all this ""revolution"" talk is about; the commentary, ""Lebanon as Ideal Compromise,"" takes note of prior American obliviousness to the Palestinian cause, but not of Lebanon's internal, communal ruptures. At a reception in 1981 Jordan, US-born Queen Noor vaunts the ""complexity"" of Arab society (by contrast with American ""homogeneity""), while her husband King Hussein very reluctantly acknowledges that ""tribal loyalties. . . have some importance. Even today."" (This amusing inconsistency isn't noted by either author.) The unrelated commentary tells us fatuously that the Arabs aren't going to build any Williamsburgs to honor their colonial heritage. Readers with a considerable taste for journeying detail--taxi rides, street scenes, social engagements, repasts of all sorts--and little knowledge of the larger Middle East, from Marrakech to Baghdad, will certainly have a scrap-bag of impressions, information, and opinion by book's end. Occasionally the travel-chronicle pays fairly elaborate attention to some social phenomenon--""the existence of self-generated village organizations"" in Yemen, the persistence of ""traditional methods of personal negotiation"" in Moroccan markets--usually to express Bob Fernea's pleasure that the old ways are alive and well, Western colonialism, developmentalism, and tourism notwithstanding. With the partial exception of a chapter based on residence in Nasser's Egypt: patchy--and not a little simple-minded.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday