Variations on Night and Day

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Abdelrahman Munif is a significant Arab author who has had to make Damascus, Syria his home, after being stripped of his citizenship by Saudi Arabia because of political differences with the rulers of that country. VARIATIONS ON NIGHT AND DAY is the third and last volume of Munif’s trilogy—known in the West as CITIES OF SALT. The first volume, MUDUN AL-MILH, was published in 1984 by the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, located in Beirut, Lebanon. It was translated into English by Peter Theroux in 1987 as CITIES OF SALT. This volume caused a sensation and was banned in a number of Middle Eastern countries, because of its hard-hitting and satirical look at the discovery of oil in an Arab country, which—in reality—can be identified as Saudi Arabia. The powerful saga was continued in the second volume, AL-UKHDUD (1986), translated into English by Theroux as THE TRENCH (1991). THE TRENCH moved the story forward and portrayed what had become of the Arab country after it had become rich beyond its people’s wildest dreams.

In TAQASIM AL-LAYL WA AL-NAHR (1989)—which has been translated by Theroux into English as VARIATIONS ON NIGHT AND DAY (1993)—Munif does not move forward, but back to a time before the Arab country was even founded. He describes with the same razor-sharp perspective that made the previous two volumes so powerful. Because of the sheer will and ruthlessness of sultan Khureybit, Mooran is able to emerge as a country. The...

(The entire section is 436 words.)