consolidated Qutb’s disdain for all things American – in particular the materialism of its culture and the free mixing of the sexes. The climax in his now famous account occurs when he attends a dance at a Colorado church hall: ‘The dancing intensified … The hall swarmed with legs … Arms circled arms, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere was full of love.’ Much to Qutb’s dismay, the evening was hosted by the pastor, who dimmed the lights to create a ‘romantic dreamy effect’ while the gramophone played a popular tune, ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’.
But can we trust this version? After 9/11 – thanks largely to Calvert’s previously published research – Qutb’s account formed the core of several media documentaries that featured, inevitably, the 1949 big band version of that tune. Calvert suggests, however, that Qutb ‘may have “cherry picked”, exaggerated and even invented some of his accounts of American life’. With undue scholarly reticence he confines the most telling source of his scepticism to an endnote citing a description of nightclubs and dance halls in Cairo that Qutb penned in 1945, several years before his American trip: ‘We all know people who frequent such halls, and we all know what goes on inside of them. We know they spend their time drinking wine in order to release their animal instincts, which are then directed at the cheap flesh found in these places.’
Iphigenia in Forest Hills AnatomyofaMurderTrial Janet Malcolm A prizewinning journalist discovers the elements of Greek tragedy in a sensational murder trial. This is an unputdownable account of the recent bizarre and intriguing Borukhova murder trial. Janet Malcolm’s journalistic brilliance paints an unsettling picture of a fractured marriage, legal manoeuvrings and a fatal custody battle that precipitated murder. £18.00
Love AHistory Simon May Love—unconditional, selfless, unchanging, sincere and totally accepting—is worshipped today as the West’s only universal religion. To challenge it is one of our few remaining taboos. This book is a radically new exploration of the ways we think about love; how it has been shaped, idolised and misconstrued by the West over nearly three millennia; and how we might more accurately—and successfully—conceive it. £18.99
Boredom ALively History Peter Toohey In the first book to argue for the benefits of boredom, Peter Toohey proves that one of our most maligned emotions is, in fact, a necessary and constructive part of the human experience. This informative and entertaining investigation of boredom spans more than 3,000 years of history and takes readers through fascinating neurological and psychological theories of emotion, as well as recent scientific investigations, to illustrate its essential role in our lives. 26 b/w illus. £18.99
Reading this passage, one cannot avoid concluding that Mahfouz’s instinct was r ight: as a writer, Qutb lacked integrity. His capacity for clear-eyed observation was blinkered by his faith. Unlike his contemporaries, such as Louis Awad and Taha Hussein, who made strenuous personal efforts to inform themselves about Western culture, Qutb approached America with a closed mind, determined to see only its most negative aspects. Although he had been influenced in his earlier years in Cairo by his mentor Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad, who admired the English Romantics, nothing in his writing suggests that Qutb – who knew some English – had read Thoreau, Emerson or Whitman. His rage against the West – and particularly against America’s spiritual emptiness – reveals the same blinkered religiosity, and obsession with lustful women and sexual pollution, that is found in the ‘will’ left by his presumed disciple, Muhammad Atta. Unlike Atta, however, he did not inflict his own desire for martyrdom on thousands of innocent people. Qutb, for all his fanaticism, was a humane and decent man: despite failing health, his conduct in pr ison was exemplary, showing concern for his fellow inmates under the harshest conditions. The Islamist movement whose ideas he honed so effectively had yet to become fully brutalised by the tortures inflicted by the corrupt authoritarian regimes that may now, at last, be having to answer for their crimes. To order this book for £25, see LR Bookshop on page 29 yalewww.yalebooks.co.uk
C. S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid ArmsandtheExile Edited by A. T. Reyes An extraordinary literary discovery rescued from a bonfire, this book presents for the first time fragments of C. S. Lewis’s lyrical translation of Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid. Lewis’s translations are presented in parallel with the Latin text, and are accompanied by synopses of missing sections and an informative glossary. £18.99
LITERARY REVIEW April 2011