The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Night moves

The novelist Gamal Al Ghitany is the editor of the literary magazine Akhbar Al Adab and of a government-published literary series called "Treasures." As such, in April, Al Ghitany put out an edition of the Thousand and One Nights. It was a copy of the 1835 Bulaq edition of the Nights, the first printed edition in Arabic. A group of conservative lawyers calling themselves محامون بلا قيود  ("Lawyers Without Restrictions") sued Al Ghitany for publishing "obscene" material. 

Issandr is actually the long-time Nights obsessive in the Arabist household, and it's thanks to him that I had lots of material for the piece I just wrote in the Review at the National on the place and influence of the Nights in Arabic and European literature. Here's an excerpt:

Borges called the Nights –affectionately –the “pulp fiction of the 13th century”. Even if that was all it was, it would make the stories a precious socio-historical document. But the Nights is so much more than the sum of its (multitudinous) parts. 

The Nights grew organically from the imaginative accretions of 10 centuries, the collective fantasies of continents. It’s small wonder there’s sex in the Nights – there’s everything in it. It has the depth, complexity, contradictions, surprises, repetitions, lulls, lack of logic, symmetries and accidental poetry of life. Scheherazade and many other characters in the Nights tell stories to stave off death, and it was a common superstition in Arab countries that anyone who finished reading the book would die. The Nights makes storytelling the engine and the essence of life, and also reminds us that our stories are our lives, both of which (no matter how many rambling detours they take) must one day come to an end.

Ursula Lindsey