No. 35, Spring/Summer 1994
The Deserts in Literature
Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Arizona
I don't particularly like deserts. After thinking about those books having to do with them that I've enjoyed reading, I realized that they all deal with the Middle East and that all but one were written by orientalists, Western adventurers, and libertines! At the same time, I should mention that I grew up on the "classics" written by such British desert junkies as Freya Stark, Charles Doughty, Gertrude Bell, Sir Richard Francis Burton, and T.E. Lawrence.
Despite my flawed taste in literature, I particularly enjoy the work of Paul Bowles and especially his book The Sheltering Sky (New York: Vintage Books, 1990; reprint of 1949 New Directions edition), which is ideal for those who appreciate the fact that the 1960s came to certain parts of North Africa as early as the 1940s.
And one of my very favorite books is Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992; reprint of 1965 Grove Press edition), which details the life of a man who outgrew America's urban deserts and ultimately made the haj to Mecca, where in the Arabian desert he discovered brotherhood, the irrelevance of race, and an honesty that led to his murder. This book is a classic that portrays deserts in a fresh and thought-provoking fashion.
About the Arid Lands Newsletter