Book Reviews, Project 4

The Arabian Nights – Book No. 7

7. The Arabian Nights (c. 1706-1721 in English) (My version was the one translated by Andrew Lang)


Dates: 3/21/20 – 4/18/20 (28 days)

Basic Plot: A compilation of folk tales with Arabic, Persian, Indian, Greek, Jewish, or Turkish roots.

Experience Before Reading: Just Disney’s Aladdin. Turns out it’s not so accurate.

Takeaway: I’ve got to be honest here: I really thought I was going to enjoy this one much more than I did.

I’m not really sure why I didn’t much care for it either. I’ve come up with some reasons that could contribute to this feeling, but I’m not sure which one is most influential:

  • I was coming down off of Atlas Shrugged, with which I’m still very much mentally pre-occupied.
  • A lack of cultural context: I was constantly googling to learn more. While I very much liked learning about other cultures, I think since I was still learning, I was unable to put these stories in a wider cultural context.
  • The plots of stories that often didn’t finish. Many stories fade from one to the next with a character finding themselves in trouble and offering that if they tell a tale more wild than their own, their lives will be spared. Sometimes it came back and finished the story, but there were a few times where the original story was lost in the Russian-nesting dolls of these tales.

I think the best way to describe my experience with this book was I wouldn’t often want to pick it up on my own volition, but when I did I was entertained and could read for a few hours.

The stories themselves are framed around one major story of King Shahryar and his wife Scheherazade. Shahryar had been scorned by his first wife and after he would marry a woman and kill her the next morning. When he married Scheherazade, she told nighttime stories for 1,001 nights until she ran out; however, by that time the King had fallen in love with her and spared her life. This is why some versions are titled One Thousand and One Nights. In my version, however, the initial story was told, but the book failed to address the ending to that story.

I wonder how my translated version differs from other versions. The translations have a rich history. In fact, three of the most popular stories from The Arabian Nights were added by a Frenchman, Antoine Galland, and it’s unclear whether these were actually Eastern stories. These include “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor,” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The last was not even in my translated version.

To anyone not familiar with The Arabian Nights do note that these stories are not specifically Middle Eastern. The scope of these stories extends far beyond to cultures such as Indian and Chinese. For instance, Aladdin was originally Chinese. To an average reader such as myself, the only way I could differentiate between cultures was from context clues in political rankings or locations themselves. That being said, some of these cultures may have co-existed in the same areas so it’s difficult to distinguish say a Jewish story from a Greek story from a Persian story.

I’d like to make clear that though my experience was not as fantastic as I may have hoped, several of these stories were incredibly interesting to me. I found a few to put on my list of favorite folk tales. I particularly liked “The Story of the Greek King and the Physician Douban,” “The Adventures of Prince Camaralzaman and the Princess Badoura,” and “The Story of Two Sisters Who Were Jealous of Their Younger Sister.” Actually, looking at the table of contents now, I really did enjoy the majority of the stories. I just didn’t crave them like how you expect a good book to be.

I want to revisit this after I read other folk tales on this list. I want to see if my opinion has been shaped by a familiarity of themes and plots.

Would I Recommend It?: To someone that craves adventure, yes.

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books

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