Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Secrets of The Arcadian Library

Many thanks to Paul for passing along this, a great TLS book review, by Marina Warner, of the book The Arcadian Library:  Western appreciation of Arab and Islamic civilization by Alastair Hamilton.

The library is a top secret, entrance-by-invitation-only, private library containing, it seems, a treasure trove of books relating to West/Middle East relations, including many rare copies of the Nights.

As an aside, Marina Warner also has a Nights-related book out this month, another new translation called Stranger Magic:  Charmed states and the Arabian Nights.

I've pasted an excerpt from the review below, but you can read it in its entirety here:  http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article812318.ece

"The Arcadian collection of editions of the Arabian Nights is one of the most multitudinous in the world, in keeping with the tales themselves. They were the reason for my visiting the Library in the first place, and the sight of the towering bookcase, dedicated to this accumulation of volumes from the first translation (l704–21) by Antoine Galland onwards, in differently coloured fine bindings, made me gasp like a seeker in one of the stories discovering the egg of the giant roc in its nest.

The Arcadian Library does not need to expand on these holdings; it does, however, reproduce some of the illustrations on another glorious gatefold, and it pictures a scattering of pages from a bundle of seventeenth-century manuscript notebooks in which stories of the Nights are told.

These have been annotated with exclamations and invocations of the owner, and survive between battered boards, the pages’ edges carefully patched here and there to preserve them. Perhaps they belonged to an itinerant storyteller, a hakawati, as Nacer Khemir calls himself; they have been lovingly read to bits.

With this lavish study of the Arcadian Library, it is to be hoped that a similar process has begun. As readers discover the knowledge assembled in the collection, it can start to flow and spread through our consciousness, altering many received ideas about the relations between East and West."

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