Monday, July 1, 2013

Hanan Al-Shaykh - One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling

I mentioned Al-Shaykh's UK version of this book in 2011, but apparently her collection of Nights stories has also been recently released in the USA, spurring the following reflection.

I've excerpted bits from an Atlantic review of her book below.  Read the whole thing at -

The review/article/musing on Al-Shaykh's work by author Joe Fassler alleges a humanist message discovered in the Nights beneath its violence.  Though what that humanism is remains unclear after reading the article.  Hanan Al-Shaykh's books are great though, and you should go read all of them.

Al-Shaykh has published, here in her Nights, 19 stories culled from three Arabic manuscripts that she found interesting, after reading all three manuscripts in their entirety, in Arabic.

Don't know if I agree with the following, actually I don't, but then again, anything goes with the Nights:

"Though the Arabian Nights features countless characters and voices, we must read each one as partially channeled by Shahrazad, her plea for reason and mercy. Through all these stories, she is working on him. Educating him. Maybe she is brainwashing him. These stories, in fact, slowly teach him to give up his lust for blood and his blanket condemnation of women.

Look closely: She chooses stories that mirror her predicament. All the characters are pleading for life, in a way. She does this intelligently, of course, camouflaging with little stories here and there on different topics. But the main line is you cease to be a human being if you steep yourself in brutality and killing. That adultery--like many human failings--happens for reasons we can sympathize with. And so one cannot be a tyrant. One must listen carefully to others, and be just. Every story is her asking for her life, asking for the killer to stop."


"We don't know much about their relationship--if she was attracted to him, if she was happy with him in bed, if she was merely a victim of his violence. But you can feel in the stories a gradual change. At the beginning they are very brutal and dark, but they show us that adultery usually happens for a reason and that jealousy and violence typically bring misery to all concerned. With time, though, they become more about social values, adventures, they were less dark than when she started, and concern higher questions. Who are we human beings? What do we do in life? What is our aim of living? How do we become better citizens? And the answer, so often, comes through telling important stories and listening closely to what others have learned."


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