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A Hundred and One Nights (Library of Arabic Literature Book 10)
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message 1: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Ready for some adventure tales? Join us in reading "101 Nights" (Miit layla wa-layla). Like its most famous cousin, "1001 Nights" (also called Arabian Nights), this medieval story collection also includes the frame tale of Shahrazad saving her life with her storytelling. However, our text is shorter, older, and likely has North African or Andalusian origins. It's much more unified, and the translation looks excellent. I for one am looking forward to adding some fun to my reading this month!

Note: Paperback version (pictured here) is English only. Hardback includes Arabic text (as is the custom of the Library of Arabic Literature). If anyone wants to join a discussion of this book in Arabic, email melaniemagidow@gmail.com

message 2: by Marcia, Arabic Literature (in English) (new)

Marcia Lynx | 158 comments Mod
Plus don't forget you can read some charming interviews w/translator-editor Bruce Fudge on ArabLit. :-)



message 3: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate I just bought the book online, will start it as soon as it arrives (as long I'm not immersed in another book) and I'll join the discussion asap!

Jalilah | 813 comments I'm waiting for my copy to arrive!

message 5: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol (carolfromnc) | 208 comments I'm so glad to see this thread up. I bought the book maybe 6 months ago in anticipation of our discussion. yay!

message 6: by Marcia, Arabic Literature (in English) (new)

Marcia Lynx | 158 comments Mod
Whoop, I have so few books here in Morocco (I have most in storage in the US) but this is one I do have.

message 7: by Cam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cam | 22 comments Thank you Marcia for the links - those interviews give really useful background information - and thanks to Melanie for leading the discussion. I'm so excited to start 101 Nights next week!

message 8: by Kate (last edited May 12, 2018 08:35AM) (new) - added it

Kate I have my copy, I bought the paperback version. I'm traveling right now and while on the plane I read the Introduction which I found fascinating. Lots of discussion on the difference between this book and "A Thousand" : they call the Shahrazad story the 'Frame Story' (understandably) and discuss the differences between the versions in the two books to try to solve the mystery of where and when the stories originated. I'm still trying to figure it out: they said the earliest found copies are 18th-19th century and written in Maghreb Arabic but that the stories themselves probably originated from India and/or Iran; that they are pre-Islamic but A Thousand and One Nights - the other book - has Islamic references so this book we're reading is probably the earlier book.

Anyway, if you're not an introduction reader, I still recommend trying to read it, I think that it gives form to the book. By the way, it does not say who wrote it, would it be the editors at LAL or the translator?

I think I've rambled but am trying to get this written down before I forget. I'm going to read the "Frame Story" next. Has anybody started? I've thought of reading that one and the other two that are found in both books with the possibility of comparing them, and wonder if anyone has a plan on how they're tackling this.

Also, as soon as I'm home (next week), I plan to take a peek at my copy of the other book "A Thousand", to compare stories. I'm not sure which one I have, though. Marcia, I now understand the difficulty of not traveling with all your books: how to refer to other related ones.

message 9: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Thanks everyone for your comments! Kate, the text is based on 6 anonymous Arabic manuscripts, so we don't have an author. The person who compared them all and produced this translated edition is Bruce Fudge. I think he did an excellent job, and I'm using both the English (paperback) and the Arabic (free PDF below). The frame story is very similar to that of 1001 Nights. We can talk more about that if you want. I'm still reading the stories. Happy reading, everyone!

Free Arabic PDF:
PDF تحميل نسخة الكترونية مجانية

message 10: by Cam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cam | 22 comments I really enjoyed reading the introduction, to the point that I actually approached the frame story with trepidation! I thought the combination of the foreword and the intro (and the interviews) made me feel like I was about to dive into a very special world.
So far it does feel pretty special (and not just because dinars mysteriously transform themselves into dirhams half way through a story) and much more fun to read than I had anticipated. Although I can see why Bruce Fudge would say that the moral of the story isn't always very clear...

message 11: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate Sorry, I think people thought I was asking who wrote the stories, I was asking about the introduction. I think it was probably the translator.

I have read the two stories that the author of the Introduction pointed out that appear in both 100 and 1000 and one nights. I am struggling with one aspect of, at least the first I read, The Story of the Prince and the Seven Viziers, with the strong theme that says that women are devious, not to be trusted. I know these are ancient stories but I really hate that they are repeated over and over again through the ages, that boys and girls grow up hearing this message. Is anyone else bothered by it? I also have a little bit of a sensitivity to western fairy tales (H.C. Andersen especially) for their affect on society and individuals within it. I will admit that The Little Mermaid was my favorite childhood fairy tale and I think the message does damage to girls.

I'm home from my trip and have access to books I intend to look at while reading this. I checked my small children's book version of One Thousand and One Nights / a new re-imagining by Hanan Al-Shaykh, and see that it contains neither stories that overlap in the two collections.

message 12: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Thanks, Cam and Kate! Yes, Kate, I understand that Bruce Fudge wrote the introduction. I'll get back to you later about girls and 101 Nights!

message 13: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Kate, you raised a very timely question about girls/women and 101 Nights. I'd like to extend the topic to include pre-modern literature generally.

There is definitely a cultural disconnect between pre-modern literature (largely produced by and for pre-modern men) and contemporary readers. Even within pre-modern literature, there is a gap between more male tales vs. female tales. For me personally, I’m interested in all of them, and can learn something from almost any text just as I find that I can probably learn something from almost any person I meet.

For those who are open to working with male and pre-modern texts, and gleaning from them something valuable (such as enjoyment or new understandings), Rachel Schine has a recent thought-provoking article about how current discussions surrounding consent relate to representation of women in pre-modern literature. She offers a reading of a short anecdote from the great epic, Sirat al-Amira Dhat al-Himma (The Epic of Dhat al-Himma). This is the longest extant Arabic epic, and the only one named for a woman, the amira (warrior woman) Fatima/Dhat al-Himma. (If you're interested in reading it, I'm midway through a selective translation into English.)

For those who would rather avoid pre-modern male points of view, but still want to read fun stories, there are a few publications that provide a more female perspective. Here I would suggest:
Pearls on a Branch: Arab Stories Told by Women in Lebanon Today, Arab Folktales, Abu Jmeel's Daughter and Other Stories: Arab Folk Tales from Palestine and Lebanon, and Moroccan Folktales. If I left off a favorite of yours, feel free to add to this list!

By the way, Kate, if you like The Little Mermaid, I have to recommend to you the story of Jullanar in Husain Haddawy’s The Arabian Nights - it’s a favorite of mine :)

Finally, one thought separate from any women or girls: This book offers a lot of happy endings! (“Happy” in the sense of resolved conflict to the advantage of the hero) I’m curious if you all like reading happy endings…Does that make any difference in your reading experience? In your evaluation of books?

message 14: by Marcia, Arabic Literature (in English) (new)

Marcia Lynx | 158 comments Mod
Great answer. :-) I'd add that I *love* "Pearls on a Branch" and anything translated by Inea Bushnaq.

message 15: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate Melanie, thank you so much for all of these links. I'll be reading them as soon as I can. I have to say that I do love stories that are fairy tale-like (I just finished one, 'Primeval' by Olga Tokarczuk) so it's a genre that I like.

I'm reading 101 nights slowly - and enjoying them. Not all are as blatantly misogynist as the one I referred to. They'd be fun to hear outloud but before I read them to my grandson, I want to make sure that it's a message I want him to hear.

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Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
That makes perfect sense, Kate.

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Carol (carolfromnc) | 208 comments Kate wrote: "Melanie, thank you so much for all of these links. I'll be reading them as soon as I can. I have to say that I do love stories that are fairy tale-like (I just finished one, 'Primeval' by Olga Toka..."

Kate, I hear you and agree with your perspective on the healthiness of some of the sexism in these stories. Just offering an alternative approach -- I deliberately read a fair amount of ancient and/or simply dated stories to my kids so that they could see me roll my eyes and discuss the silliness and wrongitude of certain views from an early age. If we'd never read those stories together when they were young and impressionable and when my influence was at its peak, I wouldn't have had such a great platform for sharing my perspective on why such perspectives are so silly and harmful and wrong. They might otherwise have encountered such misogyny for the first time later -- when I and my eyeroll and indoctrination might not have been around to counter it.

Just sayin' :)

message 18: by ReemK10 (Paper Pills) (last edited Jun 05, 2018 08:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

ReemK10 (Paper Pills) | 492 comments Here's an idea. What if we were to read the 101 Nights for what it is, and for when it was written, and for what a rare gem of a book the 101 Nights is to storytelling. Also to keep in mind that it was the Muslims themselves who spoke "disparagingly of stories such as the Nights that merely 'provoke wonder and laughter without leading to any benefit or knowledge.'" And I really don't mean to make this a personal attack, but I just have to say that I find it rather off putting that it needs to be "censored", "book banned" for a little boy in this day and age. Just saying. Really nothing personal.

message 19: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate What ReemK10? I didn't say anything about censoring or banning the stories, I said that I wouldn't read them outloud to him. On second thought, I liked the idea of reading them and talking about it better than ignoring them. I think there are underlying messages in some fairy tales that are meant to control social behavior and attitudes. It IS better to talk about it.

It did sound like a personal attack but I will accept that it was not meant to be, that it was an expression of your thoughts about it. There's a lot of that going on in social media and I hope that our book group does not become a site for it.

ReemK10 (Paper Pills) | 492 comments I wrote a reply. I deleted it. I really have no interest in rocking this boat. I was attacking the message, and it really makes no difference who wrote it. Don't worry about the book group, I mostly pop in and out. I didn't care for what I read. I commented.As readers, we are sensitive to words.

message 21: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Thanks to all who have participated in this discussion. It is great to see so much activity! Also a reminder: This is a friendly group, and our discussion threads need to remain a safe space. We are fortunate to have a variety of perspectives, and we all tend to recognize the value of this diversity. Do take care when making points about others' posts to avoid sounding hostile. Thank you! Keep the thoughts flowing - I'm around midway through the book at this point, and it really does enrich my reading experience to be able to share it with all of you.

ReemK10 (Paper Pills) | 492 comments Well of course it's a safe space, why would anyone think otherwise? It is a very good thing to have a little diversity in a discussion like this.I don't suppose that describing a tale as misogynistic may actually be considered to be a hostile view to an Arab and Muslim reader. It may be too simplistic and would be interesting to explore further. The truth is that it is Ramadan, and I don't want to "battle" with anyone here. Happy reading.

message 23: by ReemK10 (Paper Pills) (last edited Jun 05, 2018 11:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

ReemK10 (Paper Pills) | 492 comments Should I? Shouldn't I? Just read this about misogyny in the Western canon. Thought I'd share it, a kind of compare and contrast to misogyny in the Arabic literary canon (corpus!)


message 24: by Marcia, Arabic Literature (in English) (new)

Marcia Lynx | 158 comments Mod
Thanks for this! Very interesting!! The (American) dragon series of books I'm reading with my sons right now is massively misogynist, building on Tolkien's works, which build on the classics.

message 25: by Cam (last edited Jun 06, 2018 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cam | 22 comments Haven't had a chance to read all the links provided but thank you for widening my reading experience :).

I haven't quite finished all the stories yet, but they mostly read like the kind of tales men would share around a table, which I guess is potentially what they are (in terms of a written tradition to be read aloud by groups of men)? It did make me wonder about the association between fairy tales and children - from what I've understood the intended audience were most probably adults, not children.

I agree that the misogyny is tiring but on the other hand (and totally agree with you Melanie), many of these stories can easily be read against the grain. Even in the Seven Viziers, the stories of the elephant, the fisherman and the three wishes are really stories of men's idiocy and how women have to be agents in their own right in order to protect themselves from men. Which is exactly what Shahrazad is doing: telling stories that a powerful man would like to hear so that she can save herself and her sister. In fact, this has more women-as-characters than I was expecting, and I love the warrior princess in the Story of Zafir ibn Lahiq!

I'm glad this group has chosen this book as I would not have come across or picked up this collection otherwise. I've only ever read 19th or 20th century collecting of folk tales (mostly Kabyle tales), which is a very different writing and translating process from piecing together stories from manuscripts produced and copied over several centuries.

message 26: by Cam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cam | 22 comments Although I have to admit I did not expect the racial element to be as pronounced, especially in pre-modern North Africa. Islamic scholarly networks between North and West Africa were already quite developed by then (or so I thought) and as all the gold came from West Africa, I assumed traders would have been aware of the wealth of these societies. Is it because the stories are mostly adaptations and retellings of various motifs from elsewhere, and therefore not fully developed within a particular setting? Or because the manuscripts found are potentially later ones, when these tropes became more pronounced?

message 27: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Great question, Cam! After considering gender in pre-modern literature, it wouldn't make much sense to neglect some discussion of race in pre-modern literature. Similar to the representation of women, the representation of races in pre-modern literature does not usually appeal to contemporary readers. We can approach the text on its own terms, or we can choose to read other texts (both fine options, in my opinion).

The most recent scholarly work to my knowledge regarding blackness specifically in Arabic epics (which are quite similar in genre to this text: 101 Nights) is by Rachel Schine. She's at University of Chicago, writing her dissertation which analyzes black heroes and their figuration in the popular siras (epics), and is tentatively titled, “On Blackness in Arabic Popular Literature: The Black Heroes of the Siyar Sha‘biyya, their Conception, Contests, and Contexts.” She has an article about black heroes in Arabic epics here (free download with a free membership to Academia.edu - if you don't want to join, but want to read the article, just email me: melaniemagidow@gmail.com).

In addition to gender and race, other topics regarding power relations in studies of pre-modern literature and society are: minorities (religious and/or ethnic), sexual orientations, and disabilities (such as blindness). These don't necessarily arise in our text here (101 Nights), but they are topics that might be of interest to you. Let me know if you want more references!

ReemK10 (Paper Pills) | 492 comments Re: the topic of Islam and Racial Superiority

( Verse 13 )

يٌا أَيُّهٌا النٌّاسُ إِنٌّا خَلَقْنٌاكُم مِّنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنـثَى وَجَعَلْنٌاكُمْ شُعُوباً وَقَبٌائِلَ لِتَعٌارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللٌّهِ أَتْقٌـكُمْ إِنَّ اللٌّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

“O’ Humanity! Without doubt We have created you from a male and a female and have made you into various nations and tribes, so that you may come to know and understand one another. Definitely the most honoured among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most Allah-Consciousness. Surely Allah has full Knowledge and is All-Aware.”
The issue of equality between all human beings, opposition to any type of racial, ancestral and class discrimination, fairness between all the children of Adam in relation to human rights and that no person is better than another due to his skin colour, language, lineage or race - is one of the most important societal issues in the Qur’an which has been mentioned in various Ayat of this Heavenly Book.
The Qur’an has denounced any sort of superiority - whether it be of race, language or skin color. The Qur’an explains this issue with simple logic and by explaining the origin and creation of man, clearly demonstrates that such an imaginary belief that one’s race or colour is what makes him superior to others is false.
We see that from the beginning of this Surah to the present verse under discussion, Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) has addressed the people five times with the phrase:

يٌا أَيُّهٌا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا...

“O’ you who have true faith…”

However in this verse, the sphere of those being addressed has been widened from “those who have true faith” to “humanity” in general – Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Thus, in this verse, we read:
“O’ Mankind! If you look through the files of creation of the entire humanity, you will definitely see that the origin of all of these people is one and all of them have come from one male and one female (Adam and Hawa, peace be upon them both) and all descendants return back to these two people and thus, there is no criteria that can be used to make one group of people better than another.
If We have brought you forth as different groups and nations then it is not because you should have pride or conceit over the nation or family that you have come from. Rather, it is through the different groups that you are to know one another and recognize each other (لِتَعٌارَفُوا). The secret behind this branching out (of humanity) is simply for attaining knowledge and recognition of one another and merely being attached to one family, but this should never be the basis and criteria for claiming superiority over another.”
In order to condemn this fable of racial superiority and to negate this imaginary belief of preference of national supremacy and nationalism and to quiet any slogans of the ignorant people, the concept that all of us have been brought forth from one source has been mentioned in various chapters of the Qur’an as those mentioned below1:

إِتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وٌاحِدَةٍ...

“Have taqwa (Allah-Consciousness) of your Lord (O’ People) who created all of you from a single soul…”2
Just as the Qur’an has referred to the issue of superiority of one tribe over another as being a myth, even the difference in languages or the colour of skin are also not grounds for pride or vanity over one another.
It is both of these things (language and skin colour) which have been referred to as the signs (ayat) of Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) and a symbol of the power of the Creator so that we may recognize that we have come from one element and one source. It is through this chain of natural and inherent characteristics that there is a difference in the colour of the skin of various people and that they speak various languages, just as has been said:

وَ مِنْ آيٌاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمٌوٌاتِ وَ الأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلاٌفُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَ أَلْوٌانِكُمْ إِنَّ فِي ذٌلِكَ لَآيٌاتٍ لِلْعٌالَمِـينَ

“And of His signs is the creation of the Heavens and the Earth and the difference in your languages and your skin colours. Certainly there are signs in this for the people of the worlds.”

ReemK10 (Paper Pills) | 492 comments An interesting read: The Dark Side of 'The Arabian Nights' – Robert Irwin

message 30: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Thanks Reem, lots of interesting ideas!

message 31: by Cam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cam | 22 comments Thank you Melanie and yes I'd love more references! I'm trying to (slowly) remedy my shocking lack of knowledge of pre-modern and early modern history and literature so any suggestions are more than welcome.

Thank you Reem as well for the suwar and commentaries as well as for the article. Looking forward to reading it at the weekend.

ReemK10 (Paper Pills) | 492 comments My pleasure Cam ❤ Happy reading!

message 33: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Dear All,

I just finished my reading of 101 Nights. Cam, I'm glad that you liked the warrior princess in the story of Zahir ibn Lahiq. I'm working on translating an Arabic epic that gives more warrior woman stories.

I thought the Tale of the Ebony Horse was a pretty good yarn, for its fantastic elements and weaving of narrative.

The Husband and the Parrot story (p. 121) reminded me of the parrot tales in The Hakawati (which are of course based on older tales from sources such as 101 Nights). It occurs within a story full of "wiles of women" tales, clearly influenced by the Quranic/Biblical Story of Yusuf/Joseph. If you find yourself wanting to hear a contemporary "wiles of men" tale to counterbalance all this input, Salwa Bakr has written one. It's the first story in the collection, The Wiles of Men and Other Stories. Of course 101 Nights is also full of wily men, but men are the normative author and audience of this text, so it is women who are marked as Other with the trope 'wiles of women'. This trope was certainly a success among its intended audiences!

Jalilah | 813 comments Melanie wrote: "Dear All,

I just finished my reading of 101 Nights. Cam, I'm glad that you liked the warrior princess in the story of Zahir ibn Lahiq. I'm working on translating an Arabic epic that gives more war..."

I look forward to reading your translation Melanie!
Back when the group read was first announced immediately put in a request that my library purchase it and they agreed.
It took a while for the book to arrive, but it was worth the wait! I'm absolutely loving the tales! They seem similar to others I've read, but different. I'm so glad I found out about them. Thanks to this group!

message 35: by Jalilah (last edited Jul 02, 2018 02:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jalilah | 813 comments Aside from the cheating wives, I don't find the stories particularly misogynist at all, especially considering the time period they are from! There are so many warrior princesses and I am stuck by the kings, fathers who allow, even encourage their daughters to become so! Also there are several stories where the fathers let their daughters choose their own husbands which at the same time in Europe would have been unthinkable.

message 36: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 656 comments Mod
Thanks, Lila!

Jalilah | 813 comments The most magical tale of all was saved for almost last, The Story of the King and the Gazelle! The Tale of the Ebony Horse too! I loved most of these stories. In The Story of the King and The Serpent the prince sleeps with the sleeping princess, so yes counts as rape. The same thing happens in the original unsanitized Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose tale. At least in the King and the Serpent the princess after she wakes up dresses up as a warrior woman and rescues the prince!

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