Retold by Hanan Al-Shaykh
Pantheon, $26.00, 288 pages
“‘The events of this evening resemble life itself…'”
To save her own life, a young woman tells a succession of engaging tales night after night to a vengeful husband and murderous king. The iconic of name Shahrazad (or Scheherazade) is well-known to most modern readers. Less familiar are the stories themselves. Based on a vast collection of folk tales emanating in India and the Middle East, the original versions of what has also been called The Arabian Nights contain poetry, riddles, songs, anecdotes, and much more. For this newly published book, Lebanese-born author, journalist and playwright al-Shaykh has selected 19 classic stories from that extensive corpus to retell in English. Although the language has been updated for adults, the settings, characters, action, and themes retain their original features. These are intricately interwoven tales of thievery, deceit, treachery, love, lust, violence, and magic and they are each in their own way delightful. Can centuries-old stories of jinnis and witches, tricksters and frauds, kings and slaves, corrupt government officials, wronged women and devious men hold any interest or meaning for modern readers? The answer, somewhat surprisingly but resoundingly, is Yes.
Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen