Cities of Salt

by Abdelrahman Munif

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Chapters 8–14 Summary

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Chapter 8 

Heavy rains come, cheering up the people of the wadi, Miteb included. Hadib agrees to get married, and the family prepares for the wedding. Fawaz continues to ask his father if he may travel, but he is rebuffed. The original Americans return, and then many more people arrive. These people bring extremely loud machines (generators) that power very bright lights. Miteb musters the men to supervise the foreigners’ doings and sends the women and children away from the area they are in. He stays up for three days and three nights and returns to his home on Mount Zahra agitated and anguished. After sleeping part of the night, he wakes again from a nightmare and returns to the wadi.

Chapter 9 

Miteb’s wife, Wadha, tells their son Fawaz to follow his father to the wadi. After watching his father for some time as Miteb hesitates over whether to shoot into the Americans’ camp, Fawaz reveals himself. His father angrily tells him to take the gun and return to the Zahra. Over the days that follow, Miteb haunts the wadi, sometimes lurking by the Americans’ camp, returning nightly to Ibn Rashed’s encampment to argue with him about them. The people of the wadi become especially agitated after the Americans take to lying around in the sun wearing only shorts, which the Muslim people of the wadi find offensive, especially with women around. The wadi’s people spend much of their time observing the strange activities of the Americans and talking about them. A caravan comes, which is a temporary distraction, but once it is gone, the people of the wadi begin to look for a solution to their problem.

Chapter 10 

Summer comes, bringing oppressive heat. In Ibn Rashed’s encampment, the men decide to send a group to visit the emir, the local noble who rules the area on behalf of the sultan. They bring Miteb along but designate Ibn Rashed to do most of the talking. The emir tells them that they will be wealthy and are blessed. Ibn Rashed attempts to push back on this, but the emir resists until Miteb bursts out that the wadi’s people do not want the Americans there. The emir informs them that there is gold and oil under the wadi. Miteb continues to angrily complain about the Americans. The emir implicitly threatens him with death by pointing at a sword on the wall. Miteb continues to explain the problems with having the Americans there while Ibn Rashed attempts to make peace. Ultimately, all the men but Miteb tacitly agree to accept the Americans’ presence, to Miteb’s disgust. Miteb returns to the wadi, insulting the emir by not dining with him.

Chapter 11 

When Miteb returns to the wadi, he is surrounded by people asking him questions. Nearly catatonic, however, he is unable to reply. The people of the wadi guess that they have lost, from this and from the other men’s defeated looks when they return. They are convinced that a horrible fate awaits them. Miteb develops a horrible fever, and his wife cares for him. In the wadi, the people do not believe the stories of the wealth that awaits them.

Chapter 12 

Some weeks later, a loud noise in the middle of the night announces that the transformation of Wadi al-Uyoun has begun. Men come into town with tractors to dig up the town. The people of the wadi gather and watch them to see what will happen. All day, very little occurs as the Americans talk and plan rather than using their machines. After watching them all day, Miteb...

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immerses himself in the wadi, as if to cleanse himself of their presence.

Chapter 13 

In the morning, the Americans get up and go to their tractors. Miteb, who foresees what will happen, calls out to the wadi that he is sorry. The tractors begin tearing up the wadi, leveling the orchards. The people of the wadi watch, grieving, as the place they love is destroyed. Miteb returns to Mount Zahra, mounts his camel, and rides off without a word.

Chapter 14 

The people talk among themselves about Miteb’s departure, arguing about whether he is really gone and about whether and when he will return. They talk about the stories of his father, Jazi al-Hathal, and his fight against the Turks, believing that this means Miteb will return to defend the wadi. Ibn Rashed tries to get the people of the wadi to agree to relocate voluntarily, but ultimately the police have to order them to go. Umm Khosh refuses to leave, and the people refuse to leave until she does. She cries out all night. When she goes silent in the morning, the people believe that she is asleep, but she has died. The people of the wadi bury Umm Khosh and then reluctantly leave.

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Chapters 15–21 Summary