Joseph's Reviews > The Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights by Anonymous
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's review
Apr 02, 09

bookshelves: fiction, favorites
Read in April, 2009

While I can't comment on the quality of the translation, The Arabian Nights is a dizzying array of stories within stories within stories, playing with the idea that our narrative impulse is the connective tissue that makes civilization possible. The stories are at their best when they fully indulge in fantasy, recounting tales of demons, transformative magic, and epic romance.

As much as I liked the book, however, I had a few complaints, principally the lack of development in the frame story of Shahrazad and its disappointingly abrupt ending. While her story does exist primarily as a means of telling other stories, I really regretted that after her first night with the king, she becomes nothing more than a chapter break. If The Arabian Nights exists as a tribute to her bravery, skill, wit, and inventiveness as a storyteller, I would have appreciated the chance to see her put to use in other ways. The constant interpolations to remind us that she is narrating for her very survival only serve as a reminder that we're learning nothing else about her.

As with any compendium of stories, some are less interesting than others, and I enjoyed the earlier stories a great deal more than those which ended the book. The introduction made mention of the fact that the book was probably the result of a number of different writers, and reading the stories makes that more than plain. The interlocking stories and cliffhanger endings that I found so interesting disappear entirely as the book goes on, to its detriment.

In addition to the sheer pleasure of the book as an exploration of storytelling, I found it a work of great cultural interest as well. Many of the stories have a decidedly foreign flavor, not just in terms of locale but in what the narrator chooses to emphasize. I found myself thinking on many occasions that I wished the Qur'an had been more like this book, as it seems to provide a much greater insight into a culture about which I know depressingly little.
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