Bagh-o-Bahar, also known as Qissa-e-Chahar Darvesh, is believed to have been composed in Persian sometime in the fourteenth century. Though the first Urdu translation appeared in 1775, it was Mir Amman's translation in colloquial Urdu, completed in 1803, that made the work popular.
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Good book, disappointing treatmentNov. 25 2009
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The stories in A Tale of Four Dervishes are endlessly fascinating and thrilling, involving the kind of derring-do usually associated with Indiana Jones movies. The characters are larger than life and interact with various genies and fairies and witches and wizards. Most of the stories involve beautiful girls who are desired by numerous men, both good and bad. The cast includes traveling merchants, dethroned kings, princes and princesses, evildoers, and of course dervishes (Muslim monks). The only problem here is that this classic work of literature is given a surprisingly shoddy treatment by Penguin. Mohammed Zakir's translation is serviceable at best. He may be be fluent in Urdu but his English is often wooden or murky. The volume is full of typographical errors. Other than a brief glossary there are no end notes to explain the many unfamiliar terms such as solomon-collyrium (a drug that allows humans to see fairies, apparently) or to explain whether or not any of the many names that are mentioned in passing are real historical figures or fictional characters. The introduction by the translator is slight and not terribly informative. This book screams out for a new translation with greater endnotes and annotation, as well as a more detailed introduction, explaining the book's origins (apparently Mir Amman, listed as the author, is no more the author of these stories than Antoine Galland was the author of The Arabian Nights; he merely put together his own edition of stories that had been around for centuries). For all the faults of this Penguin edition, this is still a very readable and enjoyable work of fiction. It is exciting, fast paced and endlessly inventive. It reminded me of some of Isak Dinesen's Oriental tales, although, thanks to the translator, the prose here is not nearly as graceful or poetic as Dinesen's.