Book Review: Hanan al-Shaykh’s One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling

Posted September 3, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Hanan al-Shaykh’s One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling

One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling

on June 11, 2013 and has 320 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Nineteen fairy tales.

My Take

Said to be a re-telling of the original Scheherazade stories without the Western twist, although it does remind me of morality tales such as Uncle Remus and Bre’r Rabbit. It is being promoted as being sexual, or at least having sexual episodes, but don’t get excited. It’s only likely to be a concern for parents in bits and pieces. If anything, I’d say it was more of an adult read simply because of the “more elevated” language and a certain lack of fun.

Mary Gaitskilll’s foreword is curious reading with her assessment of the tales’ theme being one of betrayal and/or trickery. Betrayal is a dominant theme in almost every book I read, so I wouldn’t read too much into that. She does point out that while the “attitude is dark toward women” (too true), the women are “resourceful and witty”. That certain actions can be forgiven while others cannot.

It’s cute enough. I’d like to re-read a Western version just to enjoy the differences more. From what I do remember — and it’s been decades since I last read it — there was more of a transition between stories. One in which there was more interaction between the sultan and Scheherazade as day followed a night of storytelling. More of a sense of escaping death one more time.

Instead, there is a dinner party which fuels the journey into many of the tales (and is my greatest disconnect), and it feels separate from the original premise, that of a woman telling stories, wanting to rescue her “sisters” from death.

I don’t remember these adventures as beginning with the two royal brothers, and it’s an intriguing idea as the kickoff for these stories.

That said, open this book with the sense of reading it for the first time, leave your expectations and memories at the foreword, and ride into a set of tales that felt Middle Eastern to me in spite of the author’s disclaimer. If Hanan al-Shaykh had wanted to reinforce the idea of the stories’ origins as being more Chinese or Indian, then she should have created more of a sense of this in the background.

The Cover

I adore the cover! It feels like an older book with its crisp, hard cover and the intricate font styling used for the title. Of course, I could wish the title were easier to read…

The title is simple enough to explain the story, I should say stories, for it is One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling of the stories I read as a child.


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