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Two Arab Novels Reviewed

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We turn now to literature from two Arab writers. Alan Cheuse has this review of "Leaving Tangier" by the Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun and a novel simply called "The Novel" by Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi.

ALAN CHEUSE: The novel is a relatively new form in Arab literature. It's greatly influenced by European writers. And that's certainly clear in "Leaving Tangier," the new novel by Tahar Ben Jelloun. He's a Moroccan writer who's lived in France for nearly 50 years. His main Moroccan characters, a brother and sister named Azel and Kenza, long to put their country behind them for a better life in Europe. But once they arrive, they long with a deep nostalgia for their home country. This feeling puts them squarely in the great tradition of characters out of immigrant literature who seek to free themselves from the old world of poverty. As Ben Jelloun depicts them with their sexual proclivities and confused dreams with their new lives, they stand as completely modern characters, characters as alienated and disturbed as any in contemporary European fiction. You'll find another group of ex-patriots and estranged characters in Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi's beautifully flawed book called "The Novel."

It's a tale of two cities, about a young Egyptian woman living in Barcelona what are we recalling Cairo. She's writing a novel about her difficult life in exile. She writes about the city and the sky above it like a woman deeply in love with the physical world. The sun shone in Barcelona, she tells us. Everything blooms in Barcelona during spring time. The eyes of kittens, the virgins of the east, migrating birds, the sky is transparent blue. As for her depiction of Cairo, you feel as she describes it, the same heat from thousands of years ago, from the first pharaoh to the last one. You feel the life of this novel too, of "The Novel," of all the good novels.

SIEGEL: Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University. The books he was reviewing are "Leaving Tangier" by Tahar Ben Jelloun, and "The Novel" by Nawal El Saadawi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.