The Desert and the Dancing Girls: Penguin’s Orientalist Book Cover

Readers, I’m traveling today, and so I’m just putting up a quick post. But tomorrow, we’ll have a full-length post as per usual! In the meantime, remember to give us some love at the Brass Crescent Awardsvoting ends this Friday!

This originally appeared on the blog Abu Aardvark.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat runs a piece complaining about an odd choice by Penguin. For their series of 70 books published as part of the 70th anniversary of Pocket Books, Penguin chose to run excerpts from Gustave Flaubert’s “Letters from Egypt.” Fine… but, as Susan Bashir points out, why did they publish these excerpts under the title “The Desert and the Dancing Girls”, with this cover:

What do these two “half naked girls” (Bashir’s words) have to do with Flaubert’s letters from Egypt? Is this what Penguin thinks the Arab world really is, she asks – empty deserts and exotic dancing girls?

Honestly, this does seem a bit like something Edward Said would have had to invent if it weren’t true. Reducing the “Orient” to the desert and dancing girls… in a series which happily includes colonialism enthusiast Niall Ferguson but could find room for only two non-white authors… it would all seem to come right out of Said’s Orientalism playbook.

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  • Robin

    Frighteningly enough, I’ve read excerpts of Flaubert’s writing about Egypt, and “desert and dancing girls” pretty much sums it up. As such, I’d say the cover makes for a pretty good “Buyer Beware” sign.Flaubert was a classic Orientalist.

  • Henry

    Niall Ferguson is a twit.’Colossus’ was one of the more poorly constructed arguments I’ve ever read. He should definitely been swapped for someone else for this book.

  • Amre El-Abyad

    That was good post Zaynab. Thanks