Stoning the Devil is a novel set in the United Arab Emirates, a country of paradoxes, of seediness and glamour, of desert grandeur and Disneyland vulgarity, where public executions and other barbaric customs are winked at by the western expats who run the economy. There were several characters that appear in this what feels like a short-story collection but runs a common thread which links one character to another.
Colin, a professor of literature, is not the ‘typical’ expat, ignorant and interested only in pleasure and his stock portfolio, but a speaker of Arabic and an admirer of Arab culture – or is he? To his Arab wife, Fayruz, he is an Orientalist who exoticizes and patronises the locals, unaware of his latent racism. Colin’s students, Badria and cousin Alia seems to be infatuated with him and vying for his attention.
Fayruz, is a refugee from Lebanon. Scarred from the trauma of the civil war, weary of her husband, Colin’s, unfaithfulness decided to “strike out on her own”. Not finding her own means of making a living but retaliate in a similar way. Marwan and Randa a young couple is going through a tumultuous marriage, instead of sorting out their marital problems they both spent their times in social networking site.
Powell presents a set of characters living in the Arabian Gulf, none of them are fundamentalist stereotypes, you will be relieved to hear but nonetheless stereotypes in a different way. The stereotypes are that there is a lot of moral decadence behind the glitters of oil money and religious piety. There are illicit trade-off between beautiful women who are cash-poor who would service men who are cash-rich. The women in the novel are both victims and survivors.
The positive thing I can say about the book is that the writing is good and engaging. The idea of presenting the characters in short stories and link them up in a thread is clever.
Many books about Dubai is written by expats and it is the view of the expats that usually came out louder in the English publishing world. Therefore I can’t help but feel that books written about UAE is viewed in a tinted glass. The tone of the novel is very different than the one that is projected in Powell the author’s blog, whose people in the Gulf Arabs are: “people who led a simpler way of life and people who still eat together and talk, in a leisurely way, for hours and hours. If a friend of neighbour turns up at your house, you greet him or her and invite them in.”
Perhaps the key for me to truly understand a little bit more about the United Arab Emirates or Dubai is to read a few more books on the subject matter. I have Hello Dubai by Joe Bennett and I am interested to read Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City by Jim Krane, both non-fictions book which talks about socio-economical aspects of Dubai.
Have you read any books about the Gulf Arabs? Any recommendations?
Paperback. Publisher: Skylight Press 2012; Length: 149 pages; Setting: Dubai, UAE. Source: Author review copy. Finished reading at: 7 January 2013.
About the writer:
Born in England and educated in Cambridge University and Durham University, Garry Craig Powell is a fiction write and professor of Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas. He has lived in Spain, Poland, Portugal, the USA and the United Arab Emirates.