Book Review: Story of a City

الإثنين 07 أيار 2007

coverKalimat by Lina Ejeilat

In Story of a City, Abdul Rahman Munif takes us on an intimate journey into Amman of the 1940’s, when it was a small city centered on the flowing water source, the marketplace around the Husseini Mosque, and the Roman Amphitheatre. The first circle, during this period of Amman’s history, was considered to be as far as one could get from the city center.

While the book is constructed through the lens of personal memories, most of the narrative is in the third person and is more descriptive than personal. The memories tells of the way people lived at the time, people that characterized Amman with their idiosyncrasies and simple ways of being. Munif describes medical practices, trade, schools, the games kids played in the street, the buds of activism in high schools, and the impact of World War II at the time, followed by political unrest and developments that led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

The only character that remains as a common thread throughout the book is the Iraqi grandma, and in the original Arabic version, her Iraqi dialect and her comments when she compares Amman and Baghdad are most interesting.

Munif was born in Amman in 1933 to a Saudi Father and an Iraqi mother, and lived there until he finished high school, before going on to study Law in Baghdad. He became an activist in the Ba’ath Party and continued his studies in Cairo and was awarded a PhD in petroleum economics at the University of Belgrade. During his oil industry career he served as an oil economist in Baghdad and for Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

In 1975 he settled once again in Baghdad, where he edited a monthly periodical, al-Naft wa al-Tanmiyya (Oil and Development). In 1981, Munif moved to Boulogne, France and five years later he left France for Damascus, Syria, where he and his wife settled.

From 1981 Munif has devoted himself entirely to writing. His most notable work of fiction is a series of 5 books called Cities of Salt set in an unnamed state of the Arab gulf and exploring the transformation of its traditional desert society after the oil discovery.

Kalimat by Lina Ejeilat. Lina graduated from University of Jordan in electrical engineering and is currently a journalist in Amman.