Sunday, May 18, 2008

50 Book Challenge #29: The Arabian Nights

I took this to Egypt, along with Tristam Shandy, in what was intended to be a tales-within-tales double shot of literary love. Unfortunately, lazing on the pool deck of our riverboat in the oppressive heat was not conducive to reading Sterne. I needed something lighter, and this fit the bill.

The introduction, which discusses the previous translations of the tales, is perhaps the most engrossing part of the entire book. The excerpts from the overwrought European translations, some of which were filtered through one in a bizarre game of telephone, are cringeworthy in the extreme. The prose in this version is often flowery but never painful. There are less than 300 actual "nights" of tales, and though many of them took on a nightmarishly repetitive MadLibs-like quality* after a while, they really are the perfect thing to read while floating down the Nile. Recommended, with the caveat that you need to read the second volume to find the famous tales about Aladdin and Sinbad.

* For example: There once was a young man with a face like a [noun] who met a girl with a [noun, body part] like the moon). He saw her and was unable to [verb] for days. Finally he had to see her and disguised himself as a [noun] to get closer to her. When their eyes met they both fainted and had to be revived with [noun, fragrant liquid]. Etc.
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