Mecca: Portraits of the City in Two Recent Books

Arabic Literature (in English)

This review first appeared on Bookwitty:

meccaTwo recent books—Raja Alem’s award-winning The Dove’s Necklace(2016) andZiauddin Sardar’s acclaimed Mecca: The Sacred City(2014)—offer portraits of a city that’s been glimpsed by many, but imagined by many more. Both books tell of Mecca, yet they stand as near-opposites: one densely intimate and the other broadly analytical; one profane and the other respectful; one a wild nest of stories and the other meticulously organized; one an insider’s tale and the other giving a bird’s-eye view.

Sardar, born in Pakistan and educated in Britain, writes as a history buff and an authority on the pilgrimage. He spent five years working with engineers in Saudi Arabia to make the annual influx of pilgrims run more smoothly. Alem is a Mecca-born novelist who lives in Paris. She’s concerned not with pilgrims, but with the people who call this Saudi city home.

Taken together, the…

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