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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Reza Aslan

Tablet and Pen

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This review appeared in today’s Financial Times.

In his introduction to “Tablet and Pen – Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East”, Reza Aslan correctly argues that “from ‘the civilising mission’ to ‘the clash of civilisations’” the West has read the East primarily through a security prism, as something to be managed and contained. Apart from a couple of Nobel winners, an Egyptian feminist, and Sayyid Qutb, the region’s writing – and therefore the human dimension – is absent from our calculations.

With Saidean distaste for grand orientalist categories, Aslan argues the literatures grouped here are linked by themes of “imperialism, colonialism and Western cultural hegemony.” A straightforward civilisational definition might have been more logical; African, Indian and Caribbean writing has engaged the same preoccupations. But we know what Aslan means: these 20th Century poems, short stories, novel extracts and essays come from Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and the Arab world, the old Islamic heartland connected by common experience and similar cultural references.

The presence of the anthologiser is felt throughout – pleasantly so: Aslan’s introductions and chronologies give historical structure and social context to the pieces, and succeed in making this “not an anthology to be tasted in disparate bits but rather a single sustained narrative to be consumed as a whole.” It’s a weighty and physically beautiful book which is also compulsively readable.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 12, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Posted in book review

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