Cities of Salt

by Abdelrahman Munif

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Chapters 29–35 Summary

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Chapter 29 

Ship after ship comes to Harran. The yellow earthmoving machines that come on a new ship frighten the workers, who are often clumsy with their work in consequence, making the Americans laugh at them. Naim, the interpreter for the Americans, tells Daham—also called Ibn Zamel—who works directly under Ibn Rashed, to take the workers back to their tents. A worker named Mizban tells the story of how he was nearly crushed by one of the machines. The men curse their lives and the Americans they work for. The next day, Naim comes to the workers’ camp and asks for Fawaz, who knows how to read and write. He makes Fawaz and Daham responsible for conveying written instructions to the workers about how they should do the work.

Chapter 30 

During the next month, “American Harran” and “Arab Harran” emerge as two different cities next to each other. American Harran is rapidly built of steel, lumber, and glass. Its streets are neatly paved, and many of the houses have swimming pools. Over time, the Arab workers grow more comfortable with their tasks and less frightened of the machines and people. New, unfamiliar-looking people come by ship to work there as well. The Arab workers now wear shorts and no shirts, just as the Americans appalled them by doing when they first came to Wadi al-Uyoun. Ibn Rashed is very surprised by this when he returns with more recruits. He has many plans but is secretive about them, though he makes a point of being friendly to the townspeople of Harran.

Chapter 31 

A huge ship arrives. Loud music comes from it, and the people who emerge, men and women, are barely clothed. They have come to party and dance in American Harran. Their lack of clothing and lewd behavior is deeply troubling to the Muslim Arab workers, though they stay on the beach to watch. Agitated and excited, the Arab townspeople stay up late to talk about what has happened. Neither in American nor Arab Harran does anyone sleep until late that night. When the Arab workers sleep, they wake uneasy from disturbing dreams. There is a feeling in the town that things have fundamentally changed, and for the worse.

Chapter 32 

Ashamed of what they have seen, the exhausted and agitated men are unwilling to return to work, and Ibn Rashed does not insist. The Arab workers and townspeople gather on the beach to talk. They watch the ship leave. Daham tells Ibn Rashed that the men are sexually excited by what they saw and implies they are disturbed by that excitement. That night, the men dream of the women from the ship and wake up dissatisfied.

Chapter 33 

In the morning, the workers learn that three of them have fled the camp. They stole camels and left their soiled work clothes as a message of contempt for Ibn Rashed. Talking over the behavior of those who fled, the men express admiration. The narrator explains the pranks that one of them, Muhaisen, had instigated before he left. Watching Ibn Rashed leave with his gun, the men feel frightened about what will happen to Muhaisen and his companions. They all agree that the three men left because of the women on the ship. Naim gets angry and yells at the workers about the three men’s escape. The men feel rage at him and at Ibn Rashed. Unable to find the three escapees, Ibn Rashed returns the next evening.

Chapter 34

Ibn Rashed is transformed upon his return, sullen and silent. As they go to speak to Naim, he and...

(This entire section contains 775 words.)

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Daham are frightened and hesitant. The men hope that Naim and Daham will start fighting and that the fight will lead to a brawl between them and the Americans. At a distance, they watch Naim and Daham talk, then Daham and Ibn Rashed, then all three. They can tell that an important conversation is happening, but they cannot hear anything. For reasons they do not understand, the workers are photographed and fingerprinted. Disturbed, they talk about leaving but decide not to yet. After dropping off to sleep in despair, they have dreams they find unspeakable.

Chapter 35 

Construction on Arab Harran begins. Three shops, including a butcher shop and a bakery, are built from wooden crates and sheets of metal. To celebrate their construction, Ibn Rashed orders two sheep slaughtered. As the people feast on the meat, Ibn Rashed inspects and praises the construction. The men talk over tea and coffee about building houses. A jovial Ibn Rashed tells them that in a year, the townspeople will not be able to recognize Harran.


Chapters 22–28 Summary


Chapters 36–42 Summary