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Il Mattino (Italy): "Originally published in 2007 by one of Lebanon’s most prestigious publishers, The Proof of the Honey was immediately forbidden for sale to minors, and distribution across the Arab world was prohibited…"

Date: Aug 28 2008

The novel’s title is inspired by the words of the mystic, Ibn ‘Arabi: “The proof of the honey’s sweetness is the honey itself”—words that exult experience as a path toward comprehension and toward ecstasy. As one might imagine, “honey” is employed here in much the same way that Anaïs Nin employed it. What’s more, in the Arab world, “halu,” sweet, is an elementary word that is freighted with multiple positive meanings, some relating to food, others to internal and external beauty, and others still to the joys of sex.

The author of The Proof of the Honey is Salwa Al Neimi, a Syrian poet who works at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. Al Neimi has already earned a positions in the world of erotic literature with five volumes of poetry—these have, however, met with relatively limited success.

The protagonist of her novel, in which the frontiers between reality and the literary imagination are blurred, has been invited to participate at a conference with a paper on eroticism in literature. As she researches and begins writing the paper, she is surprised by the desire to recount her own sexual life, which began with a richly imaginative lover nicknamed “the Thinker.” She travels to Tunis seeking inspiration in the sensorial banquet that is the Arab world and in order to better recall the many stories from her past. In this exotic locale, it seems that once we move beyond the walls that separate public life from domestic intimacy, once we find ourselves amidst others of the same gender, sex becomes the subject of choice and a source of endless chatter—Peyton Place-style Stories à la Arab, secret meetings, amorous elopements, even lesbian passion.

Originally published in 2007 by one of Lebanon’s most prestigious publishers, The Proof of the Honey was immediately forbidden for sale to minors, and distribution across the Arab world was prohibited… What exactly caused such scandal and garnered such attention? In the final equation, the erotic scenes in the book, however explicit, are few. Apparently, the threat lay in the tenor of the book’s intellectual discourse—discourse that is supported by a wealth of sophisticated quotations and references intended to affirm, via the classic authors of erotica, the full legitimacy and the joys of sex. Among the writers referenced, we find the already well-known Muhammad Al-Nafzawi, author of The Perfumed Garden, which is here invoked as a counterpoint to an era of sexual misery marked by widespread dependency on Viagra. The protagonist is an avid reader and in her defense of sex and liberty even appeals to high religious sources, including the Prophet Himself. Many of His aphorisms indeed reveal a great love of sensuality (though always within the bonds of matrimony) and libertine tolerance. A case in point is His insisting on virtually impossible conditions when verifying the existence of adultery.

Salwa Al Neimi has shattered a social taboo… To a certain extent, we are dealing here with a political manifesto, a heretic one. Arabic, which for Muslims is above all a sacred language (it being the language in which the Koran was dictated) becomes the language of sex. Thus, in The Proof of the Honey religious ecstasy and sensual ecstasy merge. But not without resistance. In a significant episode, the word “nikah,” to couple, is considered an error by the protagonist’s computer. To counter this misguided prudishness, Al Neimi quotes the ninth century author, Al Giahiz: “These words were invented to be used. It is nonsense to invent them if they are then left to go to seed.”

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