Sandcastles: The Arabs in Search of the Modern World
By Milton Viorst
Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, 414 pp.
This is hardly the first book to try to portray the difficult encounter between Arab societies and the modern world. But it does stand out as a particularly insightful, fair-minded and literate account. The author has traveled widely and talked with many Arabs, politicians, artists, writers, workers, and he allows them to tell their story in their own words. Viorst has a keen eye, and his descriptions of Baghdad, Cairo, Gaza and Kurdistan always contain indelible vignettes. There is no grand theme or elaborate synthesis here, but rather a somewhat hesitant conclusion that Islamic culture poses formidable challenges for those Arabs who are seeking greater freedom and democracy. But Viorst is careful not to be dogmatic, recognizing that much is in flux in the Arab world today. His sympathies are clearly with liberals and modernizers, but he shows respect for those with other views. And, always, he listens. As an introduction to the Arab world today, this is a fine series of sketches.