World Literature: Saudi Arabia

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It’s hard to believe that the Saudi Arabia of Raja Alem’s conjurings is the same one we see in today’s headlines about terrorism, oil, and money. For Raja, modern life exists side-by-side with ancient myth and magic. Contemporary themes of patriarchy and gender rub shoulders with dashing princes who rise from the sand, snakes that speak with humans.

Alem’s novel “Fatma,” her first to appear in English, is not a fairy tale. It’s not magical realism. And it’s not your usual translation. It’s a curious collaboration between two writers that jumps the barriers of culture and language; to find common ground beyond the so-called “clash of civilizations.”

Our world literature series continues with Raja Alem, and “Fatma.”


Raja Alem and Tom McDonough, authors of “Fatma.”

Trevor Legassick, professor of Arabic Literature at the University of Michigan.