Book Review: Arabian Nights

Title: Arabian Nights

Author: Anonymous

Translator: Sir Richard Burton

Publisher: Harper Press

Publishing Date: May, 2012 (first English edition published 1706)

Genre: Various (Anthology)

Rating: 9/10

Full of mischief, valor, ribaldry, and romance, The Arabian Nights has enthralled readers for centuries. These are the tales that saved the life of Shahrazad, whose husband, the king, executed each of his wives after a single night of marriage. Beginning an enchanting story each evening, Shahrazad always withheld the ending: A thousand and one nights later, her life was spared forever.

 Arabian Nights is a fantastic collection of tales set in the the Middle East and South Asian regions, and revolves around a variety of subjects. What struck me about this book is the lyrical tone in the narrative. Now, I’ve always had a fascination with the beauty of Middle Eastern literature, the poetic prose and riveting imagery, but often the translations don’t necessarily capture the “feel” of the era, the people, and the backdrop properly. This particular version of Arabian Nights, however, captures that “feel” magnificently.

Another highlight for me was the way the stories were compiled together (and those abrupt endings)… Most folks might not enjoy an abrupt ending of a story where little to no closure is to be found, but considering the framework of the book (check the synopsis), it just works. I was left in utter awe as I flew through the book. What makes Arabian Nights convenient on the other hand is that it’s a collection of short stories, which means you can quickly read one when you have a spare moment. It’s simply ahead of its time in that regard.

However, Arabian Nights was written in a time when the phrase “political correct” did not exist. This might be a problem for a lot of people, because 1.) We don’t want to offend the masses; and 2.) Anything Middle East is considered “unsavoury” in this day and age. Women are not revered in this compilation of stories (because women are not revered—even today). In fact, in a lot of stories, women are demonised. Does it bother me, an egalitarian who’s quick to jump on the “equal wages” and “proper representation” bandwagon for women? Well, no. I don’t mind reading about the vilification of women, because it’s a real problem (even today), and I am completely aware that this problem wasn’t limited to the Middle East and South Asian territories. It was (and remains) a global concern.

That said, I really quite enjoyed this book. There’s something for everyone: erotica, romance, action, mystery, murder, supernatural elements—you name it.

It is definitely worth a read!

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