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The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey

At the same time, it offers a most unusual, thickly woven social history of prominent Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian, and Egyptian Arab writers. For the most part, Ajami refers to the writings and general history of their lives to illustrate their sorrow at the transformation of their world, all the while attempting to identify the agents of that change. In chapter 2, for example, he probes the life of Khalil Hawi-reaching back to Beirut of the 19th century and describing its evolution through the middle and late 20th century-to provide a rich social history of the city and of how it shaped Lebanon.

The reader comes to know Hawi, his family, and his struggle intimately, as well as the literary and even the para-military endeavors of Christians e. The tale, replete with little by-ways and sketches of writers as academics, nonetheless celebrates petty injustice while ignoring massive outrage.


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It was not, after all, slights fueled by false social values that prompted Hawi to kill himself on June 6, , but the Israeli invasion. In the face of such horror, how can it be said that "he protested too much" p. Chapter 3 provides a sweeping political history of the Middle East from that infamous day on to Desert Storm , as reflected in the writings and actions of Adonis, Nizar Qabbani, and Abdelrahman Munif-these given perspective by mini-dissertations on language, tribal custom, and religious doctrine.


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  6. Seizing upon the tension these writers above all, Adonis discerned between the demands of tradition and modernity, Ajami probes for their response to it in their biography, not their writings. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page.

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    Avi Shlaim reviews ‘The Dream Palace of the Arabs’ by Fouad Ajami · LRB 22 June

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    Reviewed by Charles E. Dazzled but then disappointed by dreams such as Nasserist pan-Arabism, imprisoned by harsh regimes and facing either conformity or exile London and Paris have become Arab intellectual capitals , and now buffeted by religious fundamentalism, these intellectuals, with a few exceptions, are still at sea when it comes to adjusting aspirations to power realities.

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    Such is Ajami's major theme. He uses the lives and ideas of major Arab thinkers to illuminate the ideological underpinnings of Arab politics Khalil Hawi, who committed suicide in June just as Israeli troops were entering Beirut, Nizar Qabbani, Adonis, Naguib Mahfouz, Hisham Sharabi, Abdelrahman Munif, and many others. The book ranges widely, moving from class distinctions in Arab society to the different worlds of the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian peninsula, the mindset of Shiite Arabs, and Egypt's distinctiveness.

    Portraits of the American presence from the American University of Beirut to officialdom are also presented. Ironic and insightful, this work is vintage Ajami.

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