6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2003
I read this book several years ago during a time in my life when I was free to devote a good deal of time to it. I immersed myself in it for quite a while, making charts and graphs to keep track of the intricate structure of stories within stories. When I was about half or three quarters of the way through, I began to experience a sort of spiritual excitement or intoxication, similar to experiences I had reading Hegel's *Logic*, or the works of Meher Baba, or some other works. I called the author and told him about this, and told him I thought it was a spiritual book. He said no one has done anything, as far as he knows, to examine or explain the book in that way. I believe many of the characters and situations are symbols for characteristics of the spiritual path; I can feel this level of meaning, but I am not sufficiently knowledgable in that area to really explain them fully. However, it is quite clear that the overall scheme of the book has a meaning.
Scheherazade was a beautiful young woman of high status, living in a kingdom where the women had met a great misfortune. The king was betrayed by one of his mistresses, so he took the habit of recruiting a new mistress every night, whom he would slay in the morning to make sure he was not again betrayed. Scheherazade told her family, to their great dismay, that she was going to volunteer for this duty. The stories are the ones she used to engage the interest of the king, so that his curiosity was so great he would delay killing her for at least one more night.
The first stories portray people of the absolute meanest and most crude nature, full of lust, violence, selfishness, suspicion, and a very low nature. Bit by bit, the tone of the stories becomes elevated, until at the end they are stories of unbelievably sublime love, self sacrifice, absolute humility and the willingness to undergo any suffering for the sake of the beloved.
By this method, Scherezade raised the consciousness of the king, and liberated him and his kingdom from the thralldom of his previous state of ignorance.
I hope one day to say more about the specific symbolic meaning of many of the characters and situations, which are extremely evocative and mean a great deal more than what is on the surface.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2006
I almost feel as though I'm piling on - another 5* review for Arabian Nights. But the book offers two specific marvels that I have never encountered in quite the same way.
First, the structure of the book, with elegantly nested plots, and cliffhanger chapters which make it clear why the king could not bear to lose Sheherezade before the tale could end.
Second, a set of twists and turns that may in fact be standard for persian/arabian texts, but were new and fresh for someone more used to the western canon. Wow.
I'm certain that any reader will find great joy in the Arabian Nights.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2002
I have loved the Arabian Nights since I was a kid. But its fame as a "children's book" has often been a disadvantage -- most editions are simplified, hobbled and sanitized. The unedited versions geared more for adults are a hundred years old, and often show their age. Burton, for example, is an impressive edition but the language is almost a parody of High Victorian English. This edition by Haddawy is almost as perfect as it could possibly be. First, the introduction is wonderful and definately worth reading on its own -- how many times can you say *that* about a book? It sets the stage for understanding the work, the problems in translating it, and the world the Nights came from. It is clearly, smoothly written. These strengths are carried over to the main text as well. The writing is so direct, modern, vivid, and thrilling! It effortlessly takes you into this vanished world of danger, love, magic and adventure. Many expressions are modernized, such as "demon" for "genie" or "God" for "Allah," which work well, although I wouldn't have minded the the more "romantic" terms. Haddawy explains his choice of stories... the full original text only contains about 300 nights worth of tales. Most of the famous stories were added later (Aladdin, Sindbad, etc.) in response to greater interest in the work. Readers looking for these stories should check out Haddawy's companion volume, "Arabian Nights II," which has these famous stories and shares almost all the virtues of this volume. Finally, these books are wonderfully put together: great paper, type, binding... very satisfying just as a physical form. For those who loved these stories, or anyone with a sense of adventure, buy this! Buy it now!
on April 5, 2004
"'What an amazing and entertaining story!' said Dinarzad, the sister of queen Shahrazad. And she would reply, 'What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if I stay alive.'" This dialogue ends every night of "the nights" and makes us all to wander and expect what will happen the next night. While anticipating the next night, the readers' hearts and minds goes ups and downs with the book. The Stories of "The Arabian Nights", or "The One Thousand and One Nights," are very entertaining and strange. It makes you turn those pages to find out what will happen and you will discover those stories (and stories within the stories within the stories within the stories), you never dreamed of, which made you finish the book fast and delighted.
Although I expected to read the story like "the story of Sindbad," and "the story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp," which are explained by the introduction, is later addition to fulfill the name of the "one thousand" nights, I really enjoy this translation of the oldest version of the Nights. The translator, Husain Haddawy, even made this book more familiar to us. He changes "Allah" to "God," and such. This book about four hundred more pages will bring you a lot fun time while you read it. I highly recommend you to read this version of "The Arabian Nights."
on December 8, 2003
This is a book about a woman named Shahrazade who every night sits with her husband and sister and tells stories to distract her husband not killing her. Every time she would end the night, she would turn to her sister and say "tomorrow night I shall tell you something stranger and more amazing if the king spares me and lets me live!" I didn't understand why her husband would wish her to be dead but I did notice that she would only communicate to her sister. Not once did she turn to her husband and speak to him directly. It didn't seem like a loving relationship but more of a controlling relationship.
She tells these stories and in every one of them, it was explained that if you do wrong to someone that God will do wrong to you. That person never lives happily ever after because God will punish them. "Spare me and God will spare you." Shahrazade tells her stories in defense for her life explaining that she didn't do anything to deserve for her life to be taken away. Her stories are examples of innocent people being tortured or killed but at the end the ones who took peoples' lives in their own hands will be punished by God. You get the sense that Shahrazade believes in God and that God will protect her. I f she is meant to die, then she will, its all up to God. He is the almighty, not her husband and through out the story she doesn't give up on God. She still has faith in Him. I do think that is how one takes any situation that they are in, depend on God and he will help you. I do think that it is hard for people to look within God for help but Shahrazade didn't find it hard at all.
Shaharazade may be seen as being the weak one in the relationship because it's obvious that her husband has the power. However, I see her as being the strong one because she manipulates a man, who she is supposed to fear, to stall her execution. She held her life in her hands and she controlled it discretely. Even though a man is physically powerful a woman is more mentally powerful and the mental will always dominate the physical. She used her voice to save her because that is all she had and it worked in her benefit. This book proves my point because her husband wasn't smart enough to comprehend that his wife was trying to stall her death. She continued telling these stories and pleading for her life, and her husband was just interested in her continuing with the stories. He didn't even understand the moral of the story and that God holds the power, not him. I do think that her role in the story was very strong and she kept calm through the stories and that was because she never lost faith in God.
These stories that Shahrazade told were interesting to read and I loved how one intertwined with the other. I believe these stories she told symbolized her life and how unstable and crazy it was. The tales were all about men being the "strong" and powerful ones but at the end she told the tale of the Enchanted King where the man wasn't as powerful. This was a story of how a woman tortured her husband to be with another man. The tables were turned and the woman became powerful; she controlled her husband. However, at the end she was punished just like the other men in the stories Shaharazade told. I understood this to mean that Shahrazade wasn't looking for having power but she wanted to feel equal to her husband.
on April 20, 2002
I really had no idea how much I would enjoy this! I came to it with some vague recollections of some of the tales as they had been adapted into children's stories, but I soon discovered I actually knew almost nothing about the Arabian Nights.
The introduction was extremely helpful in explaining the history of the Arabian Nights, why there are different versions, and why those different versions may contain different tales. This volume collects the oldest, "original" tales. More familiar stories that were added later--such as Sinbad and Aladdin--are collected in a separate volume, Arabian Nights II.
This translation is an absolute joy to read. The language is vivid and alive--thoroughly modern, yet (judging from the effect on me as a reader) certainly successful in conveying the nuances of the original text.
I glanced at the Modern Library Burton edition after reading this. It reads like a King James Bible. Why subject yourself to a translation that you to re-translate in order to read--especially with a wonderful modern translation like this available? How terribly that must choke the pace of the stories!
I felt like the King himself as I read this, knowing that I needed to put it down to go to sleep, but constantly telling myself, "Well, maybe I'll push on for just one more night..." Funny, sexy, violent, and packed with magic and adventure, it really had it all.
Except for children, for whom the original tales are too sexual and violent, I can hardly imagine an audience this WOULDN'T appeal to!
on August 25, 2001
This is by far the best edition of the Arabian Nights in English. The stories presented here are very different from what one would expect after hearing the fairytales previously titled as such. In fact, the original Arabian Nights (as this is advertised) seems to anticipate many works of western literature in its style, in its action and its character. To give some examples: Prosper Merimee's Carmen (for the first thirty or so pages) relating Carmen's shopping spree is almost identical to the beginning of the story "The Tale of the Porter and The Three Ladies" in this edition of the Nights. This should not be surprising since Merimee was an avid Orientalist and may have borrowed from eastern works. Canto 28 of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and the Prologue to this edition are also strikingly similar, both relating the adventures of two men leaving their faithless wives. This may simply be coincidence, but then somehow they sound alike. The list could very well go on, and this work may have influenced world literature much more than it is given credit. To think of it, even the current overly realistic style seems anticipated by some less discreet passages in this book, which detract from the overrall enjoyment of it.Sometimes, one gets the impression that one is reading a modern work, when in fact reading the translation of a 14th century text...
on June 16, 2001
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Haddawy's translation of "The Arabian Nights". It has a feeling of authenticity, as if it is truely an oral story being passed down through the ages, as it once was. The whole concept of the book is mind-boggling, with stories within stories so many times over that half the fun of reading the book is trying to follow the winding path that the stories lead you down. The physical book itself is also top-notch, as the Everyman's Library editions always are. For me, investing the few extra dollars for such a beautiful edition is well worth it.
This book may not be what you expect. It is not the Disney-fied, watered-down version that most of us were introduced to as children. Several of the more famous stories that most Americans would associate with "The Arabian Nights", such as Ali Baba or Aladdin, are actually not part of the work. They were added much later, by the early European translators. Also, the book contains bawdiness and violence (particularly towards women) that may not be appropriate for young children, so be forewarned. Overall, I feel that this an authentic, lucid translation of a fantastic story, wrapped in the most beautiful of packages. Highly recommended.
on April 18, 2001
It's a safe guess that most people are familiar with The Arabian Nights or at least some of the stories from The Arabian Nights. However there are so many more stories than the few presented in fairy tale books or in the recent tv mini-series. I decided I wanted to read all of the stories.
I did some research into different translations and versions. I chose this one because it was a new translation and the translator was of Middle-Eastern origins. Haddaway explains in the introduction how his style of writing, the sentences structure, and word choice reflect the cadence and style of the stories he heard told as a boy growing up.
The language is beautiful, well written, and very funny. There is the occasional problem with vague pronoun use, but English pronouns can be very tricky for non-native speakers (and for native speakers as well). These problems are few and far between and don't detract from the stories. I highly recommend this edition of The Arabian Nights.
on June 20, 2001
Haddawy's translation of Alf Layla wa Layla or Hazaar Afsana is the most authentic one yet. It benefits enormously from his dual background of having an Arab heritage and an English education. He has managed to distill the very essence of the Arab language and put it in English in as much as it is possible.
The poems, verses and sayings are pure magic. I had never imagined that beauty and handsomeness could be described so eloquently and in so many different ways. The imagery is fantastic. The stories themselves are masterfully woven together in a great tapestry of humans, demons, magic, wine, curiosiy and above all suspense. This is a great piece of work and can stand confidently among classics like Shakespeare, Shaw, Austen, Thackeray or Alcott.
Like everyone else, I had known some of the stories since childhood. I just never realized until now just how many there were, and how beautiful.
I recommend this book to every adult who has once been a child.