Kuwaiti novelist Laila al-Othman turned a few heads last month when she got on her soapbox about a new wave of Saudi Arabian literature that contains too much… sex.
The books she targeted were written by women… There’s a great article about Laila’s rant in Arabic Literature (in English).
The Casting Couch Syndrome for Writers?
It describes how Arab news service Meedan reveals the author told a Saudi Arabian seminar in no uncertain terms that racy chick-lit merely greases the rungs of fame for many a young authoress and publishing house:
“The trend towards increasing sexual content can be understood by the love of fame and the fact that publishing houses race to have new female writers who aspire to make hasty career jumps.” She said.
Pointing the Finger
Laila apparently singled out Wardah Abdel-Malik’s Al-Awbah (The Return) and Saba al-Harz’s Al-Akharoun (The Others), although it goes without saying that she would be liable to include Rajaa Alsanea’s highly popular Girls of Riyadh on her hit-lit-list.
Taboo-Busting Titillation for … Whom?
Arabic Literature also quotes The National in how a new genre of Saudi fiction was born after Girls of Riyadh. It seems young Arabic authors from the Kingdom are keen to break Saudi taboos, and this goes for male as well as female writers. Taboo busting is a fundamental element in literature, but if your motivation is just to make Western pulses race, it’s somewhat less appealing.
I haven’t read any of the books in question, but trawling around the net, reviews of The Others and Girls of Riyadh suggest that by default the fact these reads are available in English, and designed to shock can deflect from their literary prowess.
It’s interesting to ponder the critique by Al-Othman and those who support her views. As Arabic Literature points out: who knows if it’s the exploitation of sexuality selling novels that’s put the bee in the author’s bonnet… or is it the actual sex between the pages that makes her want to shelve them?