Arab Tales of the Marvellous and the Strange

28 August, 2015


Tales of the Mar­vel­lous and News of the Strange
Mal­colm C. Lyons, trans­la­tor, Robert Irwin, intro­duc­tion
Pen­guin Clas­sics (2014)
ISBN 13: 9780141395036

Why would­n’t you want a break from the tedi­um of your cell phone, tele­vi­sion screen, com­put­er screen, iPAD or oth­er iso­lat­ing device, in order to dive head-first into some of the ear­li­est-known Ara­bic sto­ries? This new hard­bound and beau­ti­ful Tales of the Mar­vel­lous and News of the Strange boasts mon­sters, sword-wield­ing stat­ues and shock­ing rever­sals of for­tune, not to men­tion a princess turned into a gazelle and “The Sto­ry of the Forty Girls.”

On the shroud­ed corpse hung a tablet of green topaz with the inscrip­tion: ‘I am Shad­dad the Great. I con­quered a thou­sand cities; a thou­sand white ele­phants were col­lect­ed for me; I lived for a thou­sand years and my king­dom cov­ered both east and west, but when death came to me noth­ing of all that I had gath­ered was of my avail. You who see me, take heed, for Time is not to be trusted.’

The book is replete with won­ders and mys­ter­ies, fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters and a rich glos­sary in which you learn, for instance, that Al-Andaran was a shin­ing stone fea­tured in Per­sian tra­di­tions or that Qaf is a moun­tain at the end of the world. This book could be just what’s need­ed to prime you before jump­ing into the more exten­sive, and frankly daunt­ing task of read­ing One Thou­sand and One Nights.

—Jor­dan Elgrably

Jordan Elgrably is a Franco-American writer of Moroccan heritage whose work has appeared widely in the U.S. and Europe. He is the former cofounder and director of the Levantine Cultural Center/The Markaz (2001-2020) in Los Angeles. He founded The Markaz Review in 2020, which he edits from Montpellier. Follow Jordan on Twitter @JordanElgrably.