Friday, August 19, 2011

new review of Paul Nurse's Eastern Dreams

Here is an excerpt of a new review of Paul McMichael Nurse's Nights book Eastern Dreams:  How the Arabian Nights Came to the World (2010).

The review is by Maria Tatar of Harvard.  She writes a lot about the history of the Nights as well as mentioning the book.

Here is the link:


"The daily review, Tues., Aug. 9

A cross-cultural classic by committee

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Charles Dickens and William Wordsworth read the tales when they were young and treasured them into adulthood. Edgar Allan Poe was so intoxicated by their sorcery that he wrote The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade. O. Henry alluded to them repeatedly in such tales as A Night in New Arabia and A Bird of Bagdad. And Stephen King created in his novel Misery a latter-day Scheherazade in the person of Paul Sheldon, who (re)writes a story to save his life.

In the words of Jorge Luis Borges, the Arabian Nights has become a work so vast that “it is not necessary to have read it.”"


"Eastern Dreams brilliantly maps the massively complex, culturally fraught and highly contested history of a collection that exists only in versions of itself. What is referred to collectively as Arabian Nights’ Entertainments has at its core a lost Persian storybook called Hazar Afsanah, which consisted mainly of tales imported from India. Once translated into Arabic, in the eighth or ninth centuries, it received the title Alf Khurafa (A Thousand Stories) but was later referred to as Alf Laila (A Thousand Nights). By the late 12th century, with the addition of stories from Middle Eastern countries, the collection flourished as Alf Laila wa Laila (A Thousand Nights and One Night), becoming the source material for the first Western translation."


"Eastern Dreams reminds us of the racing energy of story. The collection may be contained by a frame story, but it knows no boundaries. Ameba-like, it moves across cultures and centuries, absorbing new material as it is translated and transculturated. In the West, it has become a repository not only of Eastern tales but also of what Nurse calls “Western thought, perception and popular fiction concerning the Muslim East.” Oxygenated rather than depleted by each new cultural contact, The Thousand and One Nights reminds us that stories are infinitely expansive.

To be sure, there are many elements of imperial appropriation, cultural misunderstanding and racial stereotyping in the story of the collection and its international fortunes. But that is a story different from the one Nurse tells. In his reading, the stories have become a “co-operative product of both East and West – practically the only classic of world literature that has developed through the efforts of two cultures that are sometimes at violent odds with one another.”

Maria Tatar is the author of Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood and The Annotated Brothers Grimm. She chairs the Program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University."

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