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.