The Dream Palace of the Arabs

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Beginning with the author’s narrative of his circuitous route from his birth in a small Lebanese village in 1945 to his arrival in the United States of America, THE DREAM PALACE OF THE ARABS: A GENERATION’S ODYSSEY bemoans the failure of Arabic states to live up to the promise of becoming secular, Modernist countries, which offer their citizens personal liberty and national prestige. In five connected chapters, Ajami’s narrative moves from Beirut, the Persian Gulf, and Egypt to the flashpoint of the Middle East with its unsolved conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Throughout his intellectually stimulating book, Ajami offers his readers a rich mix of critical readings of Arabic literature and insights to contemporary Arabic culture and society, where poetry and poets still hold a position of high esteem. Yet while literary achievement soars, Ajami maintains, Arab states as diverse as war-ravaged Lebanon or economically challenged Egypt are unable to rise to the high expectations of their cultural leaders.

Instead of secure material and social progress, Ajami sees a general backsliding into repression or fundamentalism. In Ajami’s view, the Arabs’ military defeats by Israel are one powerful reason for the dashing of these high hopes to catch up with the Western world.

In the end, a serious reader will leave THE DREAM PALACE OF THE ARABS with an enriched sense for the many challenges faced by the peoples of this region.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, January 1, 1998, p. 768.

Commentary. CV, March, 1998, p. 73.

The Economist. CCCXLVII, April 18, 1998, p. S4.

Foreign Affairs. LXXVII, March, 1998, p. 160.

Library Journal. CXXIII, February 15, 1998, p. 141.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 22, 1998, p. 10.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, February 22, 1998, p. 8.

ORBIS. XCIV, Fall, 1998, p. 619.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, January 5, 1998, p. 50.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, March 1, 1998, p. 1.