Monday, May 06, 2013

North Africa: A History From Antiquity to the Present with a couple of mistakes

The latest book in my Maghrebi jones, North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present by Phillip C. Naylor, has a few exasperating flaws, but it's a fine introduction. One review suggests it might make a good introductory textbook, and it does.

First the good: The book's wide chronological scope allows Naylor to discern patterns that persist over time in a given culture or country. Muammar Qadhafi was not the first ruler who failed to build civic and other social institutions in Libya, for example.  Among other things, I appreciate Naylor's lack of sentimentality and excuse-making over post-colonial troubles in North Africa.

On the minus side, the proofreader apparently lost interest in the book's final chapters, leaving a reference to the former United Nations Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar as José Pérez de Cuéllar. And the Egyptian statesman whose name is variously spelled elsewhere Saad Zaghloul or Zaghlûl appears throughout Naylor's book as Zaghul, no first l. I don't know if this is due to some vicissitude of transliteration or pronunciation, but it sure looks odd. If the spelling is not simply a mistake, the author should have explained his decision to render the name as he did. Explanations of spellings are routine in books that render names from non-Roman alphabets into English.

I also don't care for Naylor'a love of the odd locution "equates with." Why not "amounts to" or even "means"? And the author gets wifty when summing up postcolonial theory--but then, who wouldn't? Such matters are probably dealt with in longer discussion than this survey permits, or else by reading the original sources.

I do, however, find useful Naylor's assessment that postcolonial discourse abandons binary considerations, the insistence that cultures, countries, and their populations are either modern or outmoded, Western or Eastern, and so on. And mostly I like his last chapter, which amounts to a checklist of contemporary writers from Morocco, Tunisian, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt. That just may feed my craving.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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11 Comments:

Blogger R.T. said...

Peter, because of your interest in all things North African and Algerian, you ought to check out the article (Camus and Algeria) in the Wall Street Journal's book section (Saturday, 5/4/13). Enjoy!

On another note, of all the Edgar nominees and winners, what is your short list of most highly recommended titles. I am putting together my summer reading list. Your advice will help.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read just one novel from the best-novel, best-paperback-original, and best-first-novel categories, and I recomment it highly. That's Alan Glynn's Bloodland.

Thanks for the heads-up on the Camus article. One paragraph will naturally raise consternation among some readers, that conerning Algeria lack of national identity. As it happens, it was the Maghrebi historian Ibn Khaldun who wrote of asabiyah (rendered in translation as "group feeling," though it may be significant that the Wikipedia article on asabiyah avoids that annoying translation). Given what went on Algeria immediately after the revolution and again in the 1990s, one might well argue that Algeria lacks it however the term is translated.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had bought an earlier book of Camus' essays. The man could be painfully earnest.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

There is, of course, an importance to being earnest.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You have a wild sense of humor.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Peter, you may want to add Albertine Sarrazin's Astragal to your Algerian TBR pile. Or at least Patti Smith thinks you might...

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, thanks. I've received a number of what look like good recommendations since I started this Algeria thing. Harking back to high school, when my guitar-playing and songwriting friend and I used to belt out Patti Smith's "Jesus died for somebody's since but not mine" introduction to "Gloria," I will add this one to my list.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I don't know if it's good, and I'm not really a Patti Smith follower, but it did sound intriguing.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti's first few paragraphs are a bit too precious --too much about her, not enough about the book. But hey, the book even appears to have a crime angle, which won't hurt.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Although this title is more about North Africa than Algeria, and even though it is not a crime novel (well, not in the genre sense), I would recommend to you (and to everyone) Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky. It remains one of the most unforgettable of my reading experiences. While focusing on colonialism, triangles, weirdness, and alienation, the novel makes me want to visit and avoid North Africa at the same time. Figure that one out by reading the novel.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I've been to North Africa (Tunisia, anyhow, before its revolution), and both want to return to the region and not to return.

But I've come across The Sheltering Sky a time or two in my recent reading. I have a more advanced history of North Africa on the way as well as a political history of the Islamic world. And I've begun reading Ibn Khaldun, in whom there are some wonderful passages. One of my favorite is the one where he proclaims himself not much of a writer. He was wrong.

May 06, 2013  

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