Abdelrahman Munif Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Abdelrahman (or ‘Abd al-Rahmn) Munif (moo-neef) is a highly gifted contemporary Arab novelist. His main themes involve the impact of colonialism and the discovery of oil on the people and politics of the Middle East. Relatively little is known about Munif’s background; it has been determined that he was born in Jordan on May 29, 1933, into a family of Saudi Arabian origin. Beyond that, few facts have been established about formative events in his early life. Evidently, the author’s natural reticence—and possibly some concern about the political repercussions of his works—has led him to suppress many aspects of his personal history.

According to some accounts, he studied law in Baghdad and Cairo; it is known that he pursued university work in France and the former Yugoslavia and that he earned a doctorate in oil economics. He has been employed in positions drawing upon this expertise; for some time he lived in Iraq, where he served as editor-in-chief of the government-controlled journal al Naft wa-al-tanmiyah (oil and development). Probably it was there that he became persuaded that an approach to social and cultural problems of the modern age could be found through fiction. In Baghdad he became a friend of the exiled Syrian writer and Saddam Hussein supporter Jabr Ibrhm Jabr, with whom he collaborated in the writing of a novel. In 1986, Munif moved to Damascus, Syria, with his Syrian wife and their four children.

Munif was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1963 because of his involvement in Arab nationalism, a political movement that holds the West—especially the United States—responsible for the Arab world’s economic and political problems. Munif made a similar charge during the Gulf War of 1991, describing the U.S. response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait as an attack on Arab culture. Though for some time he was not well known, particularly outside the Arab world, the distinctive standpoint and subject matter of his works have generated wider interest. Munif himself has maintained that in its development the Arabic novel has reached only a rudimentary stage when compared with the much longer traditions of prose fiction in other lands; he has...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ajami, Foud. “Yellow Wind in the Desert.” The New York Times Book Review, September 5, 1993. Expertly discusses the history behind Variations on Night and Day.

Allen, Roger M. A., ed. Modern Arabic Literature. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1987. Indispensable for the study of Munif.

Makiya, Kanan. Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising, and the Arab World. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. Describes Munif’s pro-Saddam Hussein politics.

Munif, Abdelrahman. Story of a City: A Childhood in Amman. Translated by Samira Kawar. London: Quartet Books, 1996. Munif’s memoir of his youth in 1940’s Jordan.

Siddiq, Muhammad. “Contemporary Arabic Novel in Perspective.” World Literature Today 60, no. 2 (1986). Indispensable for the study of Munif.

Siddiq, Muhammad. “The Making of a Counter-narrative: Two Examples from Contemporary Arabic and Hebrew Fiction.” Michigan Quarterly Review 31, no. 4 (1992). A valuable source.