Tag Archive for 'Arabian'

One Thousand and One Nights

In February we read award-winning journalist and novelist Hanan Al-Shaykh’s adaptation of 19 tales from the Persian story collection, One Thousand and One Nights. Al-Shaykh had ploughed through more than 8,000 pages of an original version of the tales to distil what she feels are:

the very best into a single, approachable volume.

How Al-Shaykh came to get her hands on the stories in One thousand and One Nights is an extraordinary tale in itself; growing up in Beirut, she heard them dramatized over the radio but as a woman, was unable to get her hands on the forbidden book, as men didn’t want women or children to read the tales for their explicitly sexual nature. As an adult, finally getting her hands on a copy, Hanan Al-Shaykh discovered the beauty of the text:

I felt right away it is one of the most important and complex historical origins of literature.

ScheherazadeAs a group we agreed with this sentiment, but the version of One Thousand and One Nights that Al-Shaykh has created didn’t go down well as an enjoyable read with everyone. One reader described the stories as mesmerising, and said that she had forced herself to slow down her reading to enjoy them for as long as possible. Another reader was so struck by the tales that he had taken the time to read more about Al-Shaykh as an author. Some of us enjoyed the humour of the tales together with the cunning and wit of the women outwitting the men who oppressed them.

We couldn’t help but compare these Arabian tales of powerful djinns, kings and cunning females who are forced to find ways to overcome the men who oppress them, with other forms of story-telling that we’ve come across throughout our literary lives. We discussed other experiences of stories and story-telling, thinking about fairy tales and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales while another member discussed the oral tradition of story-telling by one individual to a group of people, referencing a recent experience that she had particularly enjoyed.

A common feeling amongst us was that the format for each of the 19 stories Al-Shaykh had chosen to re-create is the same over and over again, and one reader in particular said that she began to despair at the beginning of each chapter, knowing that she’d be reading the same themes with the same format in each tale. We may not have appreciated these stories but we did collectively remember and enjoy some of the great characters, notably the brilliant woman Scheherazade, who outwits the bloodthirsty King through her own story-telling.

One Thousand and One Nights should be appreciated as a series of stories that were begun more than 11,000 years ago, and their explicit nature is one that Hanan Al-Shaykh has tried to enliven while introducing a modern graphic.

My own reading this year has so far covered a broad range of genres. I’ve just finished Sebastian Barry’s ‘Days Without End’ which won the Costa prize and other books this year have included Lyndall Gordon’s literary life of Charlotte Brontë and Arnold Bennett’s ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’.

Our next meeting is on Monday 13 March when we’ll be discussing ‘Eileen’ by Ottessa Moshfegh.

Happy reading everyone!