Friday, December 3, 2010

Eastern Dreams review in

Here is an excerpt from a recent review of Paul Nurse's Eastern Dreams in The Toronto Star newspaper and website.  It's an ok review, some critique of the academic nature of the language but overall a positive one.  A link to the review follows the snippet and the artwork is linked from the Star as well.

Published On Fri Nov 26 2010

Susan Goldenberg

"Among the interesting points:

 • Why is a book with nowhere near 1,001 stories (less than a third, actually) widely known as The Thousand and One Nights? Nurse explains that in ancient Arabic society, 1,000 “denoted the highest number attainable.” Thus, 1,000 denoted infinity or a never-ending story. As for why 1,001, Muslims considered odd numbers “to be intrinsically worthier” than even figures. “From the classical Muslim perspective, Scheherazade, to make her stories worthy, to imbue them with luck, required an extra night,” Nurse writes.

 • The world’s most famous Arabic storybook, Nurse points out, is actually “a compendium of tales culled from India, Persia, Arabia, Ottoman Turkey and Egypt, probably infused as well with stories from Hebrew, Greek and Roman sources.” For example: The striking similarity between Sinbad’s fight with a carnivorous, one-eyed giant and Odysseus’s battle with the Cyclops Polyphemus in The Odyssey.

 • The popular stories of Sinbad, Aladdin and Ali-Baba and the Forty Thieves were not part of the original but picked up from various Arabic sources by Frenchman Antoine Galland, “the man who brought Nights to the West” with his translations in the early 1700s. Galland is responsible for the often used shorthand title Arabian Nights because, as a shrewd marketer, he capitalized on the West’s fascination with the “East,” particularly Arabia.

 • Nights influenced Western literary greats Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Dickens. In “The Christmas Tree,” Dickens enthused about the impact on children: “All common things become uncommon and enchanted. All lamps are wonderful; all rings are talismans.” Edgar Allan Poe concocted “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade,” in which she tells her husband about a land resembling the 19th-century Western world. He goes along with her talking about such inventions as the telegraph and steam power, but is enraged when she describes a woman’s bustle. Regarding it as beyond acceptable boundaries, he orders her execution after all.

 • There are marked similarities between Nights’ Sinbad and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

 • The Arab world is ambivalent about Nights because of its often violent and sexual content, feeling that it gives a bad impression. Still, Nights is popular reading among the inmates at Guantanamo along with another set of fanciful books, Harry Potter.

Susan Goldenberg is a Toronto author and freelance writer."

link to article:


  1. An OK review. I'm surprised and pleased that the book even received a review, given that the book review is disappearing from newspapers. They tend to concentrate on the latest bestseller or prize winner.

    I have never understood why anyone would feel that 1001 nights meant 1001 stories. Even a cursory look at the text would show that there could not be 1001 stories. Right from the frame story, it was necessary for Scheherazade to carry a story over to the next night. The cliff-hanger ending was necessary for her continued survival. Aditionally, right from the start, none of the stories lasted a single night so why expect 1001 stories?

    I dispute the reviewers remarks about the Arabian Nights title. I do not remember Nurse making the argument that Galland was responsible for the "Arabian Nights" title. The Galland editions were, in fact, titled Les Mille et Une Nuit or The Thousand and One Nights. It is from the anomynous English edition that the Arabian Nights title come. The first edition, by Andrew Bell, 1706, had a title that began Arabian Nights Entertainments, now shortened to just Arabian Nights.

    I agree that the book does need an index.

  2. Interesting how Boccaccio terminates his embedded tales at 100 and Chaucer, if he had lived long enough, would have also limited his tales by the number of pilgrims on their round-trip itinerary. But The 1001 Nights is seen as never-ending, which seems right if we concede that readers, as co-authors of texts, take these tales and disseminate them wherever they wish.
    Gary M.