Can Books Serve as Cultural Ambassadors?

That’s what Publishing Perspectives asked yesterday: Can books change the reputation of a nation? Can their “soft power” shift international perceptions of a nation?

PP is writing here about LéaLA, a Spanish-language book fair that aims to change (stereotypical) perceptions of Mexico. But the same has been said of book fairs in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Dubai, and of the four-year-old International Prize for Arabic Fiction, all sponsored by Emirati money.

Of course, Arabs have long been aware of this sort of “soft power.” Having al-Mutanabbi on your side was, after all, a good thing.  And, on a grand scale, mass cultural production surely equals power. But, on a smaller scale, who controls these poets and novelists? Who’s to say that they won’t shame your country, open closets, dig up skeletons?

I doubt this is the sort of ambassador Bashar al-Assad wants:


Partial translation of “Statement No. 1” from an LA Times blog.

Commentary from Mideast Youth.


  1. This soft power would probably imply an intellectual prowess. However, most Arabs don’t read that often and write that much, which is why any “soft power” attained by literature now just wouldn’t represent the majority. Just like how the Riyadh book expo was for a minority; the reading type.

    1. Too true. Most print runs in the Arab world rarely exceed 1000 copies and novels that see a second edition are comparatively few.

  2. I definately think books can accomplish allot in changing peoples perception and breaking stereotypes. Problem is the people who seek these books out are already of the mind that cultural and racial differences aside,people are people. It’s like preaching to he quire. Rarely does a book like The Yacoubian Building building reach the masses. But when it dos it’s a good thing.
    I have read and continue to read literature from the Middle East and North Africa. Most of it contemporary. It’s a way getting a feeling or idea of what life is like in contemporary society in parts of the world I can’t afford to travel to.

  3. The last Book I read the was by an Middle Eastern Author was “Drumbeat” by Mohamed El-Bisatie. It was an eye opening look into what the working class and underprivileged are forced to endure. And how cruel Arab Aristocrats can be and how the class system which basically prey’s on it’s own people is protected by hypocritical doctrine and B.S.

Comments are closed.