Madinah, Ed. Joumana Haddad

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The Independent Culture

For all its fabled opulence, the Gulf remains terra incognita for most British readers of fiction. Joumana Haddad's eye-opening collection of "city stories from the Middle East" does feature strong tales about ancient centres of culture: the great Egyptian Gamal al-Ghitani writes of loss and longing in Alexandria; Nedim Gürsel depicts an author's return as a stranger to Istanbul; Hassan Blasim mixes dream and documentary in Baghdad. But Riyadh and Dubai feature more rarely on fictional maps. In the first, Yousef al-Mohaimeed's sad lover cherishes a fantasy passion; in the second, Fadwa al-Qasem's guilty husband wipes out traces of his mistress as he awaits his wife. The desert cities bloom with unsustainable desire.

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