September 19, 2008

What books would you like to see translated into Arabic?

Kalima -- an organization based in the UAE -- wants Americans to nominate books for translation:
Kalima was founded last year by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage, and is based on a simple premise: Most great works of world literature are currently not available in Arabic, making them inaccessible to most readers in the Arab world. Among last year's international selections for translation were American authors William Faulkner, Alan Greenspan, Frank Herbert, and Thomas Pynchon....

"The initiative invokes a comparison to 'Bait Al Hikma,' or House of Wisdom--a library and a translation center established by Harun Al Rashid in the 9th century. This intellectual center ignited learning and discovery in the Arab world which, in turn, became an essential factor in the making of the modern world. In that light, it is noteworthy to mention that the complete works of great American writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner--are inaccessible to Arab readers," added Dr. Tamim. "These writers paint a vivid picture of the trials and triumphs of life in America, and by putting works like these into the hands of Arab readers, we are restoring ancient bridges between our two cultures."
You can fill out a form here. And let's discuss this topic in the comments too. I like the idea of great literature as a bridge between cultures. In this light, I would like to know what works in Arabic would be good for us Americans to read in English. Also, what kinds of books are most likely to bring different people together? Do you think the vivid pictures of the trials and triumphs of life in a particular place are most effective?


Methadras said...

Satanic Verses would be a good start.

Stinger Assassin said...

It's already been translated into Arabic.

You can bet that government firewalls prevent the above website from getting into most if not all Middle East countries.

The message is too dangerous.

It is "The Base."

Pogo said...

The New Testament.

Methadras said...

I wonder how book by Ayn Rand would do in Arabic.

Palladian said...

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Palladian said...

I do like the idea of translating Thomas Pynchon into Arabic. In fact, the idea of translating Thomas Pynchon into anything is amusing. Poor translator!

Pogo said...

Orwell's Animal Farm.

Jim said...

Great Southern Pork BBQ Recipes

erniecu73 said...

1984 and Harry Potter (the whole series)

Pogo said...

Captain America comics from the 1940s.

Lem said...

The Erotic Silence of the American Wife.

Bissage said...

I say start at the beginning. Link.

Henry said...

In seriousnous, I would nominate a bunch of children's books.

The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for example.

Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web

Picture books like One Morning in Maine and Cynthia Rylant's Poppleton series.

Rafique Tucker said...

Shakespeare or Milton, if it hasn't been done yet. I would've started with the Bible, but I think they already have Arabic Bibles, don't they?

Oh yeah, and Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Palladian said...

The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse

Peter V. Bella said...

The Federalist Papers

chuck b. said...

The Monster at the End of This Book.

madawaskan said...

Up From Slavery
George Washington Carver

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

Animal Farm
George Orwell

The Virginian
Orwen Wister

Catch 22
Joseph Heller

Huck Finn
Mark Twain

Ethan Frome
Edith Wharton

SteveR said...

Hopefully their high school teachers won't make them read My Antonia or Beowulf. Death to America could take on a whole new meaning.

American history is a good start.

madawaskan said...

Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

MadisonMan said...

Horatio Alger

The Scarlet Letter

I think many that I suggest, though, including those 2, have likely already been translated.

erniecu73 said...

Why I Left Islam

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Little House on the Prairie Series

Tom Sawyer

To Kill a Mockingbird

Old Man and the Sea

The Great Gatsby

Elmer Gantry

bill said...

The Complete Peanuts 1950-1954, when the heads were more elliptical than round.


Moby Dick

Now the movie to watch to best understand the American experience is "The Blues Brothers."

Palladian said...

The 911 Commission Report

dr kill said...

I spent 2000 - 2006 in the Kingdom. If you wish to understand the Arab mind, 1001 Arabian Nights is the book for you.

If you want to communicate with the Arab people, do it on satellite TV. They don't read.

dbp said...

The Fountainhead, Moby Dick, In cold Blood

Palladian said...

Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

Oh. I see. The originals were written in Arabic.

Palladian said...

That was what some call a "joke", by the way. I don't really think Obambi is a Mohammedan.

Palladian said...

"If you want to communicate with the Arab people, do it on satellite TV. They don't read."

Good point. In that case, I nominate putting Arabic subtitles on the entire series of Twin Peaks, Dynasty, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and every single show of the Bob Barker period of The Price Is Right.

madawaskan said...


Orwell's 1984


Walden Two

Joe said...

Where the Wild Things Are

Maurice Sendak

Hoosier Daddy said...

"What books would you like to see translated into Arabic?"

How about the Federalist Papers or maybe The Idiot's Guide to Joining the 21st Century.

goesh said...

us constitution


The Confessions of St. Augustine and Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

goesh said...

aesops fables minus any swine stories that might be present

Pogo said...

Goodnight, Moon

Cedarford said...

Seriously? And in return for Arabs having to select 5 books that should be translated from Arabic to English and a generally ignorant American public be made aware of? (millions of Arabs have lived and studied here and know what they like and dislike from their living and education - about America. Some, like Sayyid Qutb and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, found the more they knew about America, the more they hated it.)

Americans have no comparable experience living and learning in Arab countries,

(And with the caveat that no purely religious shit be dispensed by either side? Because the goal is not conversion? And my list would be of America-centric books only, even though certain great English books are a core part of our heritage (Orwell, Dickens, Shakespeare..Plus the huge impact of Russian and French literary masters on us)

My 5 American-oriented book candidates would be:

1. De Toqueville's "Democracy in America".

2. The Autobiography of US Grant.

3. The Collected Short Stories of Ernst Hemingway.

4. "The Sound and the Fury" William Faulkner.

5. Either Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" or "USA (trilogy)" by John Dos Passos.

Henry said...

The Complete Peanuts 1950-1954, when the heads were more elliptical than round.

Great pick.

goesh said...

Definitely no Disney comics with Mickey Mouse - from FOX news:

Obscenity isn't the only thing that disturbs some. On Tuesday, another Saudi cleric, Sheik Mohammed Munajjid, said the cartoon character Mickey Mouse should be killed. Munajjid said in an interview with a religious Web site that under Islamic law, rats and mice are considered "repulsive" and as "soldiers of Satan."

oh my!

August said...

Stranger in a Strange Land - Heinlein

Tibore said...

Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World", and Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time". After reading Michael Totten's work, and (seperately) seeing how uncritically Robert Fisk's work is taken in the Middle East, I think some volumes on critical thinking would do a world of good.

And then I'd also nominate "Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?", to give some people the leverage they need to separate honest disagreements with Israel from rampant, malignant antisemetism. Not that there's none of that to be found in the west (rolls eyes).

Tibore said...

And gee, I'm shocked that no one's recommended "The Kinsey Reports yet, either as snark or in total seriousness.

No, I'm not recommending it. I'm just saying, I'm surprised no one else has yet; I figured someone here'd think it'd be a funny thing to nominate.

ZZMike said...

"These writers paint a vivid picture of the trials and triumphs of life in America, and by putting works like these into the hands of Arab readers, we are restoring ancient bridges between our two cultures."

One big problem is, those stories - Hemingway, Hawthorne &c - reflect a democratic (i.e., non-theocratic) worldview, which is incompatible with Islam.

"The Scarlet Letter"? Stone her!!!

"This intellectual center ignited learning and discovery in the Arab world which, in turn, became an essential factor in the making of the modern world."

Unfortunately, not too long after that, Islam descended into darkness, and the lights of science, art, and reason were never seen again. See Bernard Lewis, "What Went Wrong".

We also note that al-Rashid's Bait al-Hikma - among other centers - did not translate even one of the Greek plays, not one poem or work of literature. All these were sacreligious, worthy only of contempt.

I'm in favor of their effort, and really do hope it succeeds.

But they'll have a hard time getting a foot in the door.

Another difficulty is translating. (As the Italians said, "Traduttore tradittore" (Translators are traitors). There are concepts that just don't move easily from one language to another. There's a lot of Arabic that doesn't go easily into English.

"I would like to know what works in Arabic would be good for us Americans to read in English."

Are there any? Islam seens to be the archetype of "when you've only got one book, you nee only one bookshelf".

How about some of Sayyid Qutb?

I'm being harsh here, but I don't think it's unreasonable.

I'd be glad to hear responses.

dbp said...

Night by Elie Wiesel,

Pogo said...

Dang. No one got my joke.
Or mebbe it ain't funny.

Harwood said...

The novels of Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot.

CW said...

I would like to see "The Federalist Papers" published in Arabic,Farsi and the other major languages of the Muslim world (they probably already are) but then air-dropped all over the Muslim world until these pamphlets are as ubiquitous as pebbles. I cannot imagine anything that would upset the mullahs more, not even pornography.


MadisonMan said...

What great Arabic works have been translated into English that I should read?

Brn said...

As someone who just moved back to the US after living in the UAE for three years, some of the ignorance and hostility being displayed by some here is very dismaying. First, the Emiratis are our friends and allies. Maybe you could at least find out a little about the subject instead of assuming that everyone who is a Muslim is the same as bin Laden. This seems a good faith effort to promote understanding and it deserves better than many here are treating it.

erniecu73 said...

Pogo said...
Dang. No one got my joke.
Or mebbe it ain't funny.

12:07 PM

There are no piglets in that one. Are there?

Mitch H. said...

I once paid that bastard Juan Cole fifty bucks to publish the Federalist Papers and other foundational documents in Iraqi Arabic. As of this morning, his non-profit has apparently published approximately fuck-all.

Anyways, what form of Arabic are they translating into? The various regional dialects seem to be as mutually incomprehensible as Spanish and Italian or French. I was looking at a pair of Egyptian and Iraqi Arabic phrase books last month, and they look like completely different languages.

Les said...

I suggested Atlas Shrugged. What better than a book showing the inherent dangers of collectivism and overreaching government. It'll never fly.

bearbee said...

Gore's 'Lincoln'
Ellison 'The Invisible Man'
Mitchell's 'Gone With the Wind'
Steinbeck 'The Grapes of Wrath'
Rand 'The Fountainhead'
Elie Wiesel 'Night'
Bowen 'Miracle At Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May - September 1787'
The Bill of Rights

MeTooThen said...

The Road to Serfdom

Diary of Anne Frank

The Heritage Guide to the US Constitution

The Force of Reason (Oriana Fallaci)

The Case for Democracy (Natan Sharansky)

Let them read and digest those for a several generations and see what comes of it.

Larry J said...

"How to Win Friends and Influence People"

goesh said...

- for the general public, an IDF tactical manual -

goesh said...

I've got it! "A Woman's Guide to Driving" i get the door prize, don't I??? Say it's so, Ms. Ann !

Jeremy said...

Federalist Papers? Who reads that in English?

Not the Great Gatsby. Too much decadence. Too much nuance.

I'm thinking The Da Vinci Code. Kidding.

Too many jims said...

Has The Prophet (by Kahlil Gibran) been translated into Arabic?

Palladian said...

"What great Arabic works have been translated into English that I should read?"

Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.

Palladian said...

Strike that, Rumi wrote in Persian.

yashu said...

Emerson Essays

Jack said...

Looking at the list of candidates, this one caught my eye:
Charlemagne and Mohammed: The Arab Roots of Capitalism by Gene Heck.

I would like to read that myself, actually.

Freeman Hunt said...

People have listed some great books, but they're mostly books that people don't actually read unless assigned to do so in school. Yes, yes, we may read them, but the commenters here are hardly representative of the general population.

If the goal is to have as many people as possible read the books and have those books be generally representative of American culture, I nominate any of the Calvin and Hobbes compilations. Also, for the more white collar areas, perhaps Dilbert.

Christy said...

August, don't you think that Stranger... in some ways was inspired by the Bedouin, with the water ceremony and all?

Dr. Kill, what you said about TV over reading scares me a bit. So little of what we see on television reflects our lives that we know how much to discount it. How could others?

What has been the Arab reaction to Aladdin, our version of one of their classics?

My picks:
Huck Finn
Is it really the way life was, or how we all wish it were?
Lonesome Dove
Epitomizes a very brief but iconic period of American life.
Sandman Comics of Neil Gaiman
just because.
Flannery O'Conner's The Habit of Being
Everyday life of someone with great faith and great pain
Ann Tyler's Breathing Lessons
A quotidian tale of American life that is laugh out loud funny.

jdeeripper said...

Forget the fiction.

I'd recommend the works of Bernard Lewis, Karl Popper and David Landes. Serious non-fiction books by strong thinkers. Three men of Jewish ancestry who can teach the Arabs quite a bit.

Plus, those Far Side books by Gary Larson.

TMink said...

Palladin wrote: "In that case, I nominate putting Arabic subtitles on the entire series of Twin Peaks, Dynasty, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and every single show of the Bob Barker period of The Price Is Right."

OK, here is my review.

Twin Peaks - check, I have the movie and the series, send them the movie too, the stuff with David Bowie and the camera will rock their world.

Monty Python - what a wonderful idea. I like the way you think.

Dynasty and The Price Is Right.

While I feel you here, the Geneva Convention STRICTLY prohibits inflicting these on others for the purpose of extracting information or inducing nausea.

Hve a heart man, they are people too.

Trey 8)

Bill said...

Kipling's If.

Tex the Pontificator said...

Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom"

Smilin' Jack said...

El Cid.

Also, the collected works of Ann Coulter.

Michael McNeil said...

Jacob Bronowski, The Common Sense of Science.
Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law.
Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization.

As for Arabic books that are worth perusing in English, I suggest Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (Bolligen Series, Princeton University Press, 1967).

As Arnold Toynbee in his monumental work A Study of History wrote of Ibn Khaldun:

«[Ibn Khaldun was] an Arabic genius who achieved in a single “acquiescence” of less than four years' length, out of a fifty-four years' span of adult working life, a life-work in the shape of a piece of literature which can bear comparison with the work of Thucydides or the work of a Machiavelli for both breadth and profundity of vision as well as for sheer intellectual power. Ibn Khaldun's star shines the more brightly by contrast with the foil of darkness against which it flashes out; for while Thucydides and Machiavelli and Clarendon are all brilliant representatives of brilliant times and places, Ibn Khaldun is the sole point of light in his quarter of the firmament. He is indeed the one outstanding personality in the history of a civilization whose social life on the whole was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In his chosen field of intellectual activity he appears to have been inspired by no predecessor, and to have found no kindred souls among his contemporaries, and to have kindled no answering spark of inspiration in any successors; and yet, in the Prolegomena (Muquddamat) to his Universal History he has conceived and formulated a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place.»

George Sarton in his Introduction to the History of Science said it somewhat similarly:

«… Ibn Khaldun was a historian, politician, sociologist, economist, a deep student of human affairs, anxious to analyse the past of mankind in order to understand its present and its future. Not only is he the greatest historian of the Middle Ages, towering like a giant over a tribe of pygmies, but one of the first philosophers of history, a forerunner of Machiavelli, Bodin, Vico, Comte and Curnot. Among Christian historians of the Middle Ages there are but one or two who can perhaps compare with him, to wit, Otto von Freising and John of Salisbury, and the distance between them and him is great indeed, far greater than the distance between him and Vico. What is equally remarkable, Ibn Khaldun ventured to speculate on what we should call to-day the methods of historical research….»

Finally, Robert Flint in his History of the Philosophy of History put it this way:

«As regards the science or philosophy of history, Arabic literature was adorned by one most brilliant name. Neither the classical nor the medieval Christian world can show one of nearly the same brightness. Ibn Khaldun (A.D. 1332−1406), considered simply as an historian, had superiors even among Arabic authors, but as a theorist on history he had no equal in any age or country until Vico appeared, more than three hundred years later. Plato, Aristotle and Augustine were not his peers, and all others were unworthy of being even mentioned along with him. He was admirable alike by his originality and sagacity, his profundity and his comprehensiveness. He was, however, a man apart, as solitary and unique among his co-religionists and contemporaries in the department of historical philosophy as was Dante in poetry or Roger Bacon in science among theirs. Arabic historians had, indeed, collected the materials which he could use, but he alone used them….»

Michael said...

I love Faulkner - own a ton of his old 50's Random house books - but Sound and The Fury is tough for college level English lit readers. I'm not sure that would survive translation, let a lone make anyone want to read more American Lit.

I think a Faulkner would be good, but either:

Sanctuary, because it was written for mass consumption and accessible, though somewhat disturbing

Absalom, Absalom, which I think is a better book anyway, very intricate and has a good pop culture feel without being lowborow.

As I Lay Dying, with the chapters labeled for speakers and is a good high school level text.

David said...

The Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.

And "Cat in the Hat."

Krishnan Viswanathan said...

Madison Man wrote :
What great Arabic works have been translated into English that I should read?

While not directly answering your question here is a book translated from Urdu into English that is good :
By Ghalib Lakhnavi & Abdullah Bilgrami. A complete and unabridged translation by Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Introduction by Hamid Dabashi
ISBN: 9780679643548
992p, Random House Modern Library

From the intro :
The Adventures of Amir Hamza or the Dastan-e Amir Hamza is a grand epic from the Islamic cultures of the Middle East and beyond. Rooted in the legends of valour of prophet Muhammad's uncle, Amir Hamza, the narrative attracted legends of greater and lesser heroes and became a compendium of exploits of the fictional character Amir Hamza and his companions. For the first time Western readers have a complete text from the Urdu language which cultivated this essentially oral narrative to introduce enchanted kingdoms and extra-terrestrial realms. This is the first major translation of an Urdu classic in 300 years.

Shawn Levasseur said...

Why stick to just English books?...

Don Quixote.

memomachine said...


@ pogo

"Captain America comics from the 1940s."

I was going to write "Captain America". But you're right the 1940's is the best for this.

Zachary Paul Sire said...

My recommendation

Hazy Dave said...

I like the idea, but the Heinlein would get severely censored in translation, I fear. Personally, I think going after the younger and adolescent reader is a better idea than the heavy ideological stuff some people are suggesting. Can you imagine how boring a bad translation of Ayn Rand would be?

I'll second Catch 22 and To Kill A Mockingbird, and add Catcher In The Rye. Along with the Mark Twain, some Jack London might be appropriate, too.

And, perhaps they'll be ready for Infinite Jest in 100 years or so.

Captain Ned said...

The collected works of Robert Anson Heinlein.

John Burgess said...

Choosing books to translate into Arabic is actually something I've worked on for the better part of 25 years. My pool was of American books only--the British, Australians, Kiwis, and Canadians handle their own translations.

The US State Dept. has a book translation office. That office takes nominations of titles from American Embassies abroad and negotiates copyrights with US authors and publishers. US Foreign Service Officers in countries with particularly strong publishing records (Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan) then contract with translators, publishers, distributors, and sometimes bookstores. The deal always contains clauses that set a low cover price and provide a number of copies to the USG for free distribution through American Embassies in the region. Preventing the pirating of these books is also an issue.

All of the 'classics' of American politics and political theory have been translated and continue to be in translation.

Most of the 'classics' of American Lit, at least to the 1960s, have also been translated.

Madawaskan's list at 11:13... done
DBQ's list at 11:19... done

Cedarford's list at 11:49... done with the exception of Grant's autobiography. No Lee biography, either, but lots on the Civil War and Slavery, as well as various Emancipators.

Masses of stuff on the Constitution and US Law and various social/legal movements in the US.

Surprisingly, perhaps, some Popper and some Lewis--as well as Koestler have been translated. Wharton, Heller, and Twain are well represented.

This program, btw, has been going on for over 50 years, first through the US Information Agency and now through State.

The major catch here is the amount of money Congress allocates for the program. Some years it's flush; most years, it's pretty stingy, with perhaps 150 books in all languages being translated. Of those, some 20-30 get into Arabic.

Another catch is that Arabic publishers do their own translations--admittedly few. Their presence in the market is deemed a good thing and the USG will not compete with the market-driven translations.

There used to be a program in which remaindered English-language books could be donated by publishers for distribution abroad. That went away when changes in the tax code took away the deductions. Some private organizations distribute at their own costs, but most of the remaindered books end up as scrap when they can no longer be moved at the discount bookstores.

What would be really, really useful is books on the Arab world written by non-hysteric American authors. Learning how they are seen, in a non-insulting way, would help a lot of Arabs understand where the US (and the West in general) was coming from.

Books from Arabic to English?

Well, Muqqadimah already exists, but it's expensive in three hard-cover volumes.

You can get Ibn Batutta in paper, though.

The Adventures of Amir Hamza, alas, isn't an Arabic book, though Arabic translations do exist. It's Urdu and originates in Persia/Pakistan/India/Afghanistan. 1001 Nights, while of similar origin, has much greater Arab reworkings.

I'd suggest translations of Ibn Wahhab--the original Wahhabi--to see what he actually says. So far, only a few of his writings have been translated.

Arab takes on the Crusades would be interesting, too! Nothing quite like hearing the other side. There are a few extant English-language books that present a few essays, but nothing truly comprehensive.

Arab classics, I think, are a non-starter, except for those who have or are willing to get the context. Otherwise, they're boring, incomplete, sometimes incomprehensible. The patterns of thought and expression are utterly different. Too different for the general reader.

Contemporary Arab fiction is much easier to approach as it borrows from Western writing traditions for its style. The best ones are already being translated into English--Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, for example. The commercial ones, like Girls of Riyadh, also get translated.

The commenters would like to see the 'tough' American titles translated. We should be looking for their Arabic equivalents.

As was pointed out above, though, most Arabs don't really read books. (Small exception for books of poetry and, of course, religion.) There is so little material that is entertaining that kids rarely grow up seeing books as something fun. Schools make them even less fun.

TV and film are far more useful tools for outreach these days, but they're very expensive to produce. Quality and politics are major factors as well. And all that's before you get into things like 'culture appropriate'. When some countries censor kisses, there's a whole lot of stuff that isn't going to make it through Customs.

Masterasia said...

Don't forget "Where's Waldo?".

John Burgess said...

BTW, let me add that much of Twain, Faulkner, Poe, Bierce, Cather, and others already makes up part of Arab secondary school and university Literature curricula. Same with Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catch 22. Sometimes they're in translation, but mostly they're in English.

veni vidi vici said...

"Snowdrops from a Curate's Garden" by Aleister Crowley

Quasimodo said...

Frank Sheed's "Theology and Sanity"

Palladian said...

"Can you imagine how boring a bad translation of Ayn Rand would be?"

Couldn't be any more boring than the English version.

ricpic said...

It makes no difference what books or how many books are translated into Arabic. Why? Arab society, which is to say Islamic society, is a consensus society, a consensus society taken to the limit. A line is handed down from on high to which everyone must submit. Failure to submit equals death. Literally. So it doesn't matter what an individual Arab reading, secretly, the writing of an infidel, thinks. If he dare utter agreement with that infidel's thought he is dead.

All that said I would like to see the Arab world flooded with Leo Rosten's The Joy of Yiddish, may they all consensually choke on it.

Stinger Assassin said...

Regarding works in Arabic, the place to start is the Qur'an. It is an eye-opener. Remember not to fall into the bad habit of calling Muhammad "the Prophet Muhammad." If you are Jewish or Christian, he, of course, falls outside of Judeo-Christian theology.

Muhammad was, of course, a military leader, and within 100 years of his death, the armies of Islam conquered just about everything from Morocco to central India. The sword on the flag of Saudi Arabia, the "protector of the Holy Places," appears below the shahada, the Muslim's creed. The sword symbolizes the conquest of Arabia by the Wahhabis.

I would recommend the pre-Islamic bedouin qasida ode. Read some in college, but I will be darned if I can find actual qasidas on-line, only descriptions of what they are. Like "Song of Solomon" in their frankness.

Ibn Khaldun is well worth reading, as was suggested above. Note, however, that he lived from 1332 to 1406. The gist of his thinking is that rural (desert) people are superior to city dwellers, morally and in other ways, and that civilizations rise and fall as they become corrupted by urban ways. Or something. There's no John Locke or Thomas Jefferson in Middle Eastern political thought.

The novel "Cities of Salt" by Abdelrahman Munif (translated by Peter Theroux, Paul's brother) is worth examining.

Mohammed Heikal, a top adviser to Nasser, wrote several insightful books into Egyptian politics.

Malika Oufkir's book "Stolen Lives" recounts her despicable 20 year imprisonment by Morocco's king.

The classic work on Arab psychology is "The Arab Mind" by Patai, though it's not originally in Arabic.

"The Republic of Fear" by Kanan Makiya will give you a frightening look at life under Saddam.

If you want to find out how bizarre Saudi society is and how troglodytically incompetent its government is, pick up "The Siege of Mecca" by Trofimov. There are or were some Saudi bloggers writing in English, but they've been silenced.

Daily prayer times are posted in "The Arab News.". You won't find in that newspaper any listings for church or synagogue services, however.

PS--Great article in Slate about heavy metal rock in the Arab world. Video!

John Burgess said...

Stinger Assassin: Gee, I wonder who's writing those 20 or so Saudi blogs I visit daily. They don't appear to be shut down.

Islam is the only religion that requires prayer five times a day. Timing is set by the location of the sun and moon, which differers at different longitudes. Saudi Arabia spans nearly an entire time zone, so the sun will rise in Dhahran nearly an hour before it does in Jeddah; Riyadh is 300 miles from Dhahran and 800 from Jeddah, so its prayer time are intermediate. People actually need published prayer times to work on an intra-city level--or, more precisely, to know when they can't work because the other guy is at prayer.

I'm pretty sure, too, that there are no Christian religious obligations that are determined by the time of day--those under orders, of course, do have prayers for certain times of the day. Other than the setting of the sun as establishing the start of Shabbat, I'm unaware of any Jewish requirement either.

Your veiled point about there being no other religion publicly recognizes in Saudi Arabia is, of course, correct.

I do applaud your selection of the Munif books. They--and their translations--are excellent. As they're already in English, though, I didn't point to them.

Glen said...

Our Town
Thornton Wilder

The Time of Your Life
William Saroyan

Brian Friel

Christ Stopped At Eboli
Carlo Levi

Letters from the Earth
Mark Twain

The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood

The Lord of the Rings
J. R. R. Tolkien

Non Fiction
Poor Richard's Almanack
Benjamin Franklin

On the Origin of Species
Charles Darwin

A Room of One's Own
Virginia Woolf

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples
Winston Churchill

The Joy of Sex
Alex Comfort

Glen said...

A correction. Christ Stopped At Eboli belongs under non-fiction.

So add this:

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy

dr kill said...

To check what most Saudis are commonly viewing:

I am a big fan of Saudi Arabia, both the Royal Family and the common Bedu. They are on their own side, as they rightly should be, but they have so much in common with the common American. It was a privilege to be their guest for six years.

But education and reading are very low priorities in Arab culture.

reader_iam said...

John Burgess: Thanks!

bleeper said...

The Big Book of Jewish Humor.

blake said...

I'm pretty sure, too, that there are no Christian religious obligations that are determined by the time of day--those under orders, of course, do have prayers for certain times of the day.

Vigils, Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline...

blake said...

Playboy, so Arabs can enjoy the articles, too.

Issob Morocco said...

Charlotte's Web. Porcine drama. In shallah bukrit Malesh!!

Stinger Assassin said...


Who are the Saudi bloggers you read?

I am interested.

They will, of course, eventually step over the line and quietly be paid to be quiet.

There was a blogger named "Saudi Pants" and another guy, a dissident in London "the religious policeman" and a woman...but they're gone.

From a UN 2007 study...

"It has been quoted in several reports that in the last 1000 years, the number of books translated into Arabic is equal to what is translated into Spanish in a single year," says Nagy. He says no single reason can be pinpointed for that "shocking statistic."


Dr. Kill above gives a pretty view of what Saudis see on TV. Here are actual news and drama clips from Saudi TV with English subtitles. Oops. Actually that's a link to a story explaining why it is illegal to sell cats and dogs in Saudi Arabia. Nice place Saudi Arabia. Cats are illegal there. People are afraid to put a cat in their car and go for a drive.' a story about heavy metal music in Iran. Hells bells, the Shia are on the highway to hell.

Ophir said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dbp said...

It just came to me, the perfect book to translate into Arabic: Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.

I can already translate the title for us here, "Al-Qaeda".

Ophir said...

@ John Burgess
Islam is the only religion that requires prayer five times a day. Timing is set by the location of the sun and moon, which differers at different longitudes... Other than the setting of the sun as establishing the start of Shabbat, I'm unaware of any Jewish requirement either.

Judaism, which like Islam is a legalistic religion, requires three prayers a day: a morning prayer, an afternoon prayer and an evening prayer as well as other observances which are governed by time. Here for instance are the appropriate times in Madison, Wisconsin:

Pastafarian said...

Has anyone suggested "The Diary of Ann Frank" yet?

Kevin said...

I recommended Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand with this comment:

Although set as a work of fiction, this book is an important political and philosophical work that has influenced the viewpoint of tens of millions of readers, US citizens and otherwise. Reading it helps to understand the libertarian, small government, individualistic philosophy that runs as a thread through much of American life. It will help Arabic readers understand America and Americans better.

John Burgess said...

Stinger Assassin: Blogger 'Religious Policeman', based in London, stopped blogging on his own accord. He was caught up in flame wars about whether or not he was a Saudi and pulled the plug several years ago.

You must be speaking of the still blogging Saudi Jeans. Ahmed Omran is out there and is frequently cited in the foreign media. He's a Shi'a from the Eastern Province.

Sandcrawler brings a different perspective. He's of Indonesian origin and often blogs about Saudi racism.

Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, a Saudi-American, blogs about lots of things, including the Philippines, and sometimes offers a gay perspective at Rasheed's World.

Two Dykes and a Closet is just what it sounds like. Not currently as active as it sometimes is.

If you read Arabic, there are over 10,000 more Saudi blogs. If you go to Saudi Jeans, you'll find links to some. You can Google or use Technorati to find them.

John Burgess said...

Stinger Assassin: You do know that MEMRI is run by the former head of Israeli military intelligence, no?

While over the past few years MEMRI has paid attention to reformers in Saudi Arabia, the bread and butter is till pulling video and quotes of the extremists Saudis while not paying quite so much attention to the moderates.

Their money to do with as they like, but let's not pretend that they present a full story, okay? You also might want to check some of their translations, too.

Dr. Kill: Where in the KSA were you located? I was in Dhahran from 81-83 and Riyadh 01-03.

Synova said...

I'm unrepentantly low-brow and think that what you suggest (the original post) is fundamentally in error because of the assumption that literature must serve a higher function.

If we want to bridge cultures we should bridge the cultures that actually exist on the streets and byways... not the cultures that exist as "culture".

Because one is true while the other is assumed.

To bridge cultures it's important to talk about true culture. For the USA I'd suggest translating nearly everything written by Louis L'Amour to start. Hack Western writer or not, he perfectly captures and essential American Mythos... something bellybotton gazing, social commentating, authors committing acts of "literature" fail badly at. Plus the stories are fun and heroic.

I'd suggest Lois McMaster Bujold as well... her widely (for all I know in Arabic even) translated Vorkosigan series. Lois is a master at stealth social commentary and the setting of those is in the context of a hyper-masculine society... which may appeal to the Arab culture.

Charles Chapman said...

It probably says a lot about me that for some unfathomable reason my initial reaction was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

My choice makes no rational sense and is entirely instinctive.

But I'm sticking with it.

"It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run... but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant...
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of 'history' it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour... booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turnoff to take when I got to the other end... but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: no doubt at all about that...
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning...
And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

John Burgess said...

Sorry for the triple post, but I should point out that not all Saudi blogs can be read in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis do block URLs, sometimes with an excess of exuberance. The clowns who manage the filtering service (and who know that their job is fruitless as one can easily, for a bit of money, route around the national servers) have been known to block all of Blogger or Flickr at times. They usually open them up again after protests.

But individual sites can be blocked.

Eric said...

I'm thinking "The Rage And The Pride" and "The Force Of Reason" by Oriana Fallaci would be excellent choices.

John Burgess said...

Ophir: Thanks for that info. I assume this is among the Orthodox?

Are times established by the clock or by some phase of the sun or moon?

John Lynch said...

Pride and Predjudice. I think Muslim women could relate.

Peter V. Bella said...

The Story of O. That would drive them right up the wall.

rishigajria said...

God is not Great - How Religion poisons everything by Christopher Hitchens.

The God Delusion by Richard Hawkins.

Those would be a good start for Muslims worldwide.

Methadras said...

Islam for Dummies.

reader_iam said...

Oh, for pete's sake, and what the hell (and why not?):

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

reader_iam said...

Books aside, the comments written herein speak volumes.

Danny said...

Books, save for the Quran, really aren't a part of Arab culture. And anyone who does read most likely has been educated in the West or in a English language school and would much prefer to read in English. Not a lot of Arabs can read Arabic beyond street signs and newspaper headlines, and any translation of slightly colloquial speech would be pretty crummy. The best medium would probably be a TV miniseries dramatizing the events of whatever book/paper with people speaking in Egyptian arabic.

KaziA said...

Charles Chapman beat me to it, my first thought was also Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

And kudos to Synova for suggesting Louis L'Amour, his novels are paeans to love of learning and the power of books.

tariely said...

Мультфильмы онлайн
Мультфильмы онлайн
Мультфильмы онлайн
Мультфильмы онлайн
Мультфильмы онлайн

h2o said...

how about A Study in Scarlet it Will indeed be a wonderful if they translated and addition to All the writings of Arthur Conan I know that
Now the Arabs are really drilling of these books and I am of one them.

Charles N. Steele said...

A Pakistani friend of mine (he's now American) went into the American library and stumbled across "How to Win Friends and Influence People." It was an epiphany -- a radically different way of looking at people and society that he'd never imagined. It put him on a course where eventually he left Pakistan for the U.S., earned a Ph.D., now works as a development economist.

I always found it a mildly lame book. But that's because I take for granted some of what is in it (e.g. society is a positive sum game). We can't know what ideas will be valuable to other people. And we should not underestimate the power of even the simplest ideas.

Therefore I nominate *everything* ever written in English.