Book Review: Arabian Nights

Nesting DollsI had been meaning to read this for quite some time. The only trouble is there was no “this”. It’s a cleverly clothed collection of Middle Eastern fairy tales. Unlike the Brothers Grimm collection I have, this one attempts to weave dissimilar stories into one tale. That tale is of a king that has lost faith in women. He believes they will always betray the man they marry. So he beats them to it. He marries a woman, kills her on her wedding night, and does it again the next day. This continues until, Scheherazade, volunteers to marry him. She has a plan. She will tell him a story every night, but not come to the end of the story when sunrise arrives. Since the day has dawned, it’s now or never as far as her execution is concerned. Her trick works. So that he can hear the end of the story,t he King spares her life for one more night. This continues for 1001 night, or so I’m told.

Apparently, there are no shortage of versions out there. None of which I’ve found has all 1001 stories. This version contains but a few of them. It does have enough to give me a feel for the themes. Genies and other magical beings abound. Though this edition doesn’t contain Aladdin, that story is one of the 1001. So, too, is Sinbad the Sailor. Reading the man’s adventures called to mind Gulliver’s Travels. In the 7 stories he finds himself on many a strange island, having to outsmart many a strange beast. By the 4th journey, I am left wondering what’s wrong with the fool? Every time he travels, he gets ship-wrecked and it takes him 7 journeys to call it quits? I guess Scheherazade needed to go back to a formula that worked. Telling stories for 1001 nights means that they’re not all going to be winners.

One last note, if you’ve ever seen those Russian Nesting Dolls that have another smaller doll inside it, which in turn has an even smaller doll inside of it, this collection is like that. Scheherazade tells a story and has the tailor or the barber or whoever tell a story within that story. Sometimes Scheherazade’s storyteller has a tale containing a storyteller of it’s own. You often find yourself reading about a story within a story within a story. You can easily lose your bearings. The saving grace for this, though, is that the deeper you go in the chain of stories, the shorter that story is, so you don’t have to keep your bearings for all that long.

I don’t think I’d recommend reading this like a normal book. Had I known better I most likely would have read a story here and there and not plowed through the entire thing.  If you’re interested in Middle Eastern culture, though, I think you can’t go wrong. While the stories are nearly older than written history, it’s always interesting to compare and contrast a culture today with how it was centuries ago. If that’s your bag, check it out.  

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