Cities of Salt is Munif’s seventh and undoubtedly most important novel. It is the first, however, set in the writer’s native land of Saudi Arabia. His earlier novels dealt with more general Arabian concerns as he perceived them from his self-imposed exile, initially in Iraq, where he worked for many years as a petroleum engineer, and later in Paris, which he made his home. Most of Munif’s fiction is written in the traditional styles of naturalism and social realism, both of which were fashionable in the 1940s and 1950s in Arabic fiction but which have become somewhat archaic since then.
The naturalistic mode is exceptionally appropriate, however, for the purposes of this novel: namely, to evoke in minute detail the plenitude of a world that once was and is no more. This is an undertaking of epic proportions, and, like all epics, it describes and explains everything in full, leaving nothing to chance. It is unquestionably the most important Arabic novel in decades and will probably have an impact far beyond literature.