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

The Desert and the Dancing Girls: Penguin’s Orientalist Book Cover December 10, 2007

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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