Thursday, May 07, 2009

What is Elsa Marston reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Elsa Marston, who writes for young people, focusing largely on the Middle East--ancient and modern, fiction and nonfiction. Her latest book is Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World (Indiana University Press 2008); a film has been made from the title story, available from Some other recent books are Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change, The Ugly Goddess (YA novel, ancient Egypt), Muhammad of Mecca, Prophet of Islam (historical biography), and Songs of Ancient Journeys: Animals in Rock Art (poetry). Personal encounters between different cultures are one of her basic interests and, having married into a Lebanese family, with many opportunities to live in different parts of the Arab world, the story of her own life. A New Englander by origin, and longtime resident of Indiana, she welcomes visits to her website at

Part of her entry:
I recently noticed Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky in an airport bookstore. Recalling comments by my late husband (Iliya Harik) about Bowles as an important--though challenging--writer, and piqued by the book cover's hints about cultural encounter, I decided to buy a copy. It is indeed challenging. The basic story line is about three young Americans who travel around Algeria in the late 1940s, deeper and deeper into the Sahara, until the husband dies, his wife wanders off by herself, and their male friend tries to pick up the pieces. Meanwhile, the wife has been rescued by a dashing young caravan merchant, who eventually imprisons her in his remote desert house, makes her his fourth wife, and feeds her on lamb fat. I am not fond of being challenged quite this much, and I cannot say whether this book is more adventure, fantasy, surrealism, orientalism, anthropology, Hollywood nonsense, metaphysics, or poetry. When it was first published, in 1949, it apparently launched Bowles' reputation as one of the century's most significant literary writers. For that reason I would recommend it for those who, as I did, feel that they should read something by Paul Bowles. At least it reminded me of my own various encounters with the deserts of North Africa, although they were hardly so bizarre.[read on]
Visit Elsa Marston's website.

Writers Read: Elsa Marston.

--Marshal Zeringue