July 29, 2005
"A black comedy of errors"
It was shocking to discover Lynne Graham's seminal treatise on East-West relations, "The Arabian Mistress", languishing in the one-dollar-clearance bin at Books & Record Exchange. In her detailed allegorical analysis of the strained and difficult history between Arabia and the West, Graham brings both depth of knowledge and sharp perception.
"Arabia" is encapsulated in the boldy-drawn, bold-tempered protagonist, Prince Tariq Shazad ibn Zachir. Graham's multiple, florid descriptions of this 28-year-old "paramount Sheikh of Jumar" are surely a sly dig at Western stereotyping of the "Orient", from the lush harems depicted in Orientalist art to cult romance figures such as Valentino's The Sheikh.
"He stilled like a lion on the prowl. Magnificent, hugely confident, his silent grace of movement one of his most noticeable physical attributes. In the sunlight he was a golden feast of vibrant masculinity. His luxuriant black hair shone. His tawny skin glowed with health and his stunning bronze eyes gleamed like precious metal, both brilliant and unreadable. Indeed, he was quite staggeringly beautiful..."
Graham cunningly fuses several Arabian countries together to present "Jumar" as a kind of "Everyarabia". It is first described as an "oil rich Gulf state." There are racehorses, plenty of dust, sandstorms, "elderly tribesmen" leading goats on strings, majilis sessions - all remeniscent of the Southern Gulf. References to a "building boomtown" suggest Dubai, as does the term "Jumaran". But a taxi managing to "speed" down "wide, pristine streets" on a mid-morning weekday suggests anything but!
Mentions of large and ancient forts give a whiff of Oman. Alcohol laws - prohibited at Customs but available in hotels - indicate Qatar. A monogamous royal family with an unveiled royal wife visiting charities recalls Jordan. Then, imagine Graham's glee at her readers' bewilderment when Ibn Zachir finally reveals his heritage as "Berber". Surely a masterstroke to cut off a chunk of the Maghreb and sail it bodly into the Arabian Gulf!
"In the whole of our history, our women were never veiled. Berber women do not cover their faces. The harem was a foreign concept as well, imported into Jumar by my great-grandfather, a man whose appetite for your sex is a living legend."
Ibn Zachir is also an Arabian cocktail: blending the heroism of a Salahadin, the stubborn pride of a Saddam, and the guile of a Qaddafi. By contrast, the wan and naive young western woman, Faye Lawson, represents the well-meaning but easily misguided and misled President George W Bush.
Lurking in the background - a more sophisticated, sinister and malevolent force - is the Rumsfeld-Cheney character, "boorish stepfather" Percy Smythe. It is Smythe's blackmail and deception, stemming from avarice and exploitative business ambitions, that has driven such a wedge between East and West, as represented by Ibn Zachir and Faye. Faye is but a pawn in the intricate and self-serving machinations of Smythe, but his eventual downfall is a symbol of hope for all.
Graham rapes the thesaurus to describe Ibn Zachir's golden eyes, which represent the lure of Oriental riches to Smythe and the greedy West. He is variously described as having "molten golden eyes", "smouldering golden eyes", "scorching golden eyes", "burning gold of his eyes", "lustrous golden eyes", "censorious golden eyes", "hawkish golden eyes", "blazing golden eyes", "brilliant golden eyes", "shimmering golden eyes", "searching golden eyes", "glittering golden eyes", "glittering lion-gold eyes", "glittering golden gaze", "stunning golden eyes", "dark golden eyes", "stunning, dark golden eyes" and "brooding, dark golden eyes".
Unsurprisingly, relations are described in terms of war and power. Ibn Zachir "hits on a tiny pulse spot with devastating accuracy"; he is a "lithe, tawny predator". As he stretches out "an imperious hand", Faye goes "into retreat rather than advance." She is alternately shown as being "greedy" for his raw male power, then "surrendering" to it. Echoing the Christian text of "turn the other cheek", Faye even submits to his torture of her weak and vulnerable flesh:
"As he employed greater sensual force on the tender buds, exploring the firm contours of swollen flesh, her teeth gritted and her fingers clenched, tiny cries of response escaping her parted lips."
At the climax of the text, Graham warns that that West will have to bend to accommodate East, as Faye feels:
"his bold shaft stretching her".
While their union is first termed a "destructive force" leaving both parties spent and exhausted, it is from this forceful encounter that the seeds of reconciliation germinate. "Little Prince Asif" arrives as "something of a surprise package" eighteen months later: both East and West doubtless startled that from the heat of their battle, a new future fusing both Orient and Occident is formed.
It is Ibn Zachir who describes their earlier misunderstandings as "a black comedy of errors", and this could indeed be a very apt title for Graham's book.
Posted by secretdubai at July 29, 2005 03:46 AM
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I can't believe you paid a whole dollar for that book!
Posted by: eerie at July 29, 2005 08:48 AM
It's one thing to pay a whole dollar for that book, and quite another to admit it in a public setting. :-)
Posted by: Eva Luna at July 29, 2005 09:56 AM
Insofar as I know secretdubai, I can confirm secretdubai has a strange fetish for self-punishment via bad literature (this is to be opposed to consuming bad literature without understanding it is bad).
That aside, one dollar probably covers the cost of paper. It can be used in symbolic book burning and the like.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 29, 2005 12:39 PM
Oh I might add that there were (and still are) Berbers as far East as Egypt.
Not that I am sure the author had the slightest idea in this regard.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 29, 2005 12:43 PM
Just like EM Hull's Sheik (the 1919 original sexy Arab lover-boy) turns out to be half Spanish, half English. Don't worry, dear reader! He's not really that!
Posted by: Jackmormon at July 29, 2005 02:12 PM
I just couldn't understand why she made him Berber. I still can't.
Posted by: secretdubai at July 30, 2005 03:17 AM
"Seminal treatise"? Oooh, I just noticed that (groan).
Posted by: evaluna at July 30, 2005 09:24 AM
I'm glad it wasn't too subtle! There are some seeds and germination later on.
Posted by: secretdubai at July 30, 2005 09:38 AM
SecretDubai: You really need to post this book review on the Amazon.com and the Amazon.co.uk site. There are, believe it or not, 7 reviews on amazon.com, some quite lengthy!
BTW, it seems you were hard re: the price. Amazon.com shows "new & used copies form $0.01"!
Posted by: anonymous at July 30, 2005 04:02 PM
Super idea. Done. I bet they reject it ;)
Posted by: secretdubai at July 30, 2005 04:14 PM
Didn't T.E. Lawrence particularly admire the Berbers? I think they also get better treatment in Agatha Christie's stuff than Arabs do. What's-her-face that wrote this dreck may also have heard some glimmering of the post-Algerian-Revolution suppression of Berber culture and language, which might have made them seem even more like an appropriately "good native" group. Or maybe she picked at random.
Posted by: Jackmormon at July 30, 2005 07:44 PM
im looking for information about EM Hull's 1919 romance novel The Sheik, I read it and i want to write about it
for my studies
if you have sth usefull I ll be very thankfull if you send it to me
Posted by: habibi at April 3, 2006 07:13 AM