Decoding diaspora and disjuncture: Arjun Appadurai in dialogue with David Morley

Summer 2011

The novel Girls of Riyadh (Banat Al-Riyadh) by Saudi author Rajaa Alsanea, first published in English by Penguin in 2007, provides a valuable prism through which to examine an array of geo- political forces that govern the movement of literary texts between Anglophone and Arabic-speaking reading publics. This investigation seeks to contribute to the developing feminist scholarship on reading books by and about Muslim women, not just in the light of the long history of Orientalism but more specifically in the context of neo-imperial wars in the twenty-first century. The essay explores a wider range of questions posed by the subject matter, style, translation and marketing of this book. As the novel is written as a series of emails to an online chat room, it raises timely questions about how technology is mediating the social lives of young people across the Arabic-speaking world. The publication and promotion of this book is discussed in the context of the 2008 London Book Fair in which Arabic literature was the market focus. The role of the British Council in the event provides a window to examine the mechanisms of public diplomacy which provide the context for understanding the convergence of the Anglophone publishing industry with media corporations, NGOs and policy makers. The essay then asks how we are to read modern Arabic fiction in translation, since it is virtually impossible to approach it outside these tentacles of geo-political power.

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NF 73 Reading After Empire