Rummanah Aasi
  I have very fond memories of my parents telling me stories from the Arabian Nights during bedtime. Of course the stories were told in a G rated fashion and lead me to read various editions of the One Thousand and One Nights as I grew older. There is no official version of the One Thousand and One Nights as the stories were told orally for many generations. Acclaimed Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh has selected nineteen of these stories, some of which I never read before, and translated them from Arabic into modern English, and knitted them together into an utterly captivating short story collection.

Description: Gathered and passed down over the centuries from India, Persia, and across the Arab world, the mesmerizing stories of One Thousand and One Nights tell of the real and the supernatural, love and marriage, power and punishment, wealth and poverty, and the endless trials and uncertainties of fate. They are related by the beautiful, wise, young Shahrazad, who gives herself up to murderous King Shahrayar. The king has vowed to deflower and then kill a virgin every night--but Shahrazad will not be defeated by the king's appetites. To save herself, she cunningly spins a web of tales, leaving the king in suspense each morning, and thus prolonging her life for another day.

Review: For those of you unfamiliar with the Arabian Nights, the over arching story is this: Ever since the king was outwitted by his lusty, philandering wife, he commands that he must marry a virgin woman a day and after their wedding night, the woman would be killed before she came to harm the king and his kingdom. Vizier’s daughter Shahrazad volunteers to marry this brutal king but in order to save her own life and the other young women of her kingdom she spun tales that lasted for one thousand and one nights. In this collection of nineteen short stories, al-Shaykh retells them to celebrate her ­rediscovery of the Arab classic’s stylistic artistry, portraying a complex society, and its stunning female characters in particular who are far from passive and fearful, quite aware of their social limits, yet full of will and intelligence and wit. For al-Shaykh, as for Shahrazad, stories are matryoshka dolls, nesting within one another and casting ghosts and shadows in all directions. Here, Shahrazad first tells the traditional tale of the fisherman and the jinni, and then brings together at the impressive home shared by three beautiful sisters, a porter, three dervishes, and three merchants. Over many hours, each character tells multiple stories for different goals in a context of ever-shifting personal and power relationships. These stories are like a jig saw puzzle, leaving the reader to wonder how do they connect. The stories themselves pulse with love, lust, magic, and moral ambiguities; while is a strong undercurrent of terrible violence that underscores moments of pure beauty. I thought it was very interesting to read these stories from the lens of both the Western and Eastern culture. The stories can be hilarious, horrifying, touching, enlightening, or revelatory, which reminds us of why we have been utterly fascinated and continue to be so by the One Thousand and One Nights.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are sexual situations and strong violence throughout as well as some language. Suitable for Adults only.

If you like this book try: Sharaz-de : tales from the Arabian nights written & illustrated by Sergio Toppi, Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Complete Fairytales of Hans Christen Andersen,
4 Responses
  1. I have always been curious about this one and I recently bought the book at the book store for a great price. I really need to check this one and the original out. It sounds fun.

  2. I've read the basic fairytale, Rummanah, but haven't seen the focus be on the stories Shahrazad relates. I love the concept though and the idea of trying to figure out how all her stories relate so I'll be adding this to my wishlist.

  3. Jenny Says:

    Color me curious Rummanah! Both about the stories she tells and whether or not the king ends up sparing her life after she runs out of stories to share with him. Guess maybe I'll have to read this one and find out:) Thanks for the recommendation!!!

  4. I've always been completely absorbed by the Arabian Nights stories, and this sounds like something that I have to get my hands on. It sounds fantastic. And that cover is absolutely stunning too!

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