The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)

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IN CONTEXT

FOCUS

Modern Arabic voices

AFTER

1935 Prolific writer and scholar Taha Hussein, the “Dean of Arabic Literature”, tells of an Egyptian author’s struggle between Arab and European culture in his novel A Man of Letters, played out between Cairo and Paris during World War I.

1956–57 Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy follows a Cairene family from the 1919 Egyptian Revolution against British colonial rule to near the end of World War II in 1944, highlighting the personal, social, and political struggle of a changing city and country.

1985 The Sand Child, written in French by Tahar Ben Jelloun, explores and critiques issues of traditional Islamic values, gender politics, and the construction of identity in a postcolonial Moroccan setting.

Colonial empires began their inevitable decline in the aftermath of World War I, thanks partly to the war’s impact on the centres of Western culture. Literary orientations, topics, and themes began to reflect the new shift in the balance between colonizers and colonized. Among the many postcolonial narratives to emerge, those emanating from the Arab world of North African and Middle Eastern countries came to international prominence.

Diversity of ideas

Lebanese writer, philosopher, and artist Kahlil Gibran (1833–1931; also known as Khalil) was one of the most acclaimed authors to emerge out of the blossoming pool of Arab intellectuals. His own Christian upbringing and his interest in the teachings of Islam, Sufism, and Judaism represented a break from the traditional link between geographical and spiritual beliefs, and were the major influences on his English collection of illustrated prose poems entitled The Prophet.

In this book, Gibran uses a style familiar in religious scripture and sermons to deliver short speeches spoken by the prophet Almustafa to a diverse crowd as he is about to depart by boat from the city of Orphalese. The 26 essays range from reflections on love, passion, children, and eating, to thoughts on justice, time, evil, and death. The essays emphasize human relationships and encompass themes of diversity and a universal love that is free from the bounds of a single belief system.

"These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling."


The Prophet

See also: One Thousand and One Nights