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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

A Hundred and One Nights

translated and edited by
Bruce Fudge


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Hundred and One Nights



Title: A Hundred and One Nights
Author: n.a.
Genre: Stories
Written: 1190(?) (Eng. 2016)
Length: 408 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: A Hundred and One Nights - US
A Hundred and One Nights - UK
A Hundred and One Nights - Canada
A Hundred and One Nights - India
Les cent et une nuits - France
101 Nacht - Deutschland
  • Arabic title: كتاب مائة ليلة وليلة
  • Edited, Translated, and with an Introduction by Bruce Fudge
  • Foreword by Robert Irwin
  • This is a bilingual edition that includes the original Arabic text facing the English translation

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a bit simple and rough, but entertaining variety

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 30/1/2013 Christian H. Meier
TLS A 14/7/2017 Alev Adil


  From the Reviews:
  • "Handelte es sich um ein anderes Medium, müsste man sagen: 101 Nacht ist das B-Movie unter den orientalischen Märchen. Das heisst nicht, dass die Sammlung nicht ihre Vorzüge besässe. Originalität und Komplexität der Episoden steigern sich im Verlauf des Buches beträchtlich und erreichen einige Höhepunkte" - Christian H. Meier, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(A) major contribution to the field and promises to intrigue and beguile the general reader as well as to become indispensable to literary scholars. Fudge’s introduction, meticulously footnoted and indexed translation and the parallel text give fresh insight into the origins and routes of transmission of narrative." - Alev Adil, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title might lead readers to think that this is merely an abridged version of the more famous Arabian Nights -- 101 nights, instead of 1001 -- and the framing device, of Shahrazād telling a series of stories to protect her life, and that of her sister Dīnārzād, night after night, might reinforce that notion. It's not the case, however: while the origins of the collection are still largely unknown, it does stand as an almost entirely separate set of stories (though two of the seventeen on offer here are also found in similar form in the Arabian Nights, and two more seem to be precursors of tales from the larger (and likely later) collection).
       In his Introduction translator Bruce Fudge suggests that: "the primary quality of A Hundred and One Nights is its efficiency", as the stories are recounted in quick, clipped form. (Indeed, its often hard to believe that Shahrazād could have gotten away with such brief snatches of story before leaving off for the night.) There's little embellishment or waste here, and where a character's story or past is known, the author usually sees no need to repeat it -- which actually works quite well; among the collection's best scenes is the quick introductory exchange:

     "Who are you, young man, and what is your story ?"
     "My story," he replied, "is such-and-such."
       If the basic framing-story, with Shahrazād and her sister, is familiar, it's nevertheless nicely introduced here, Disillusioned, the king gave up on marrying for a while, but apparently couldn't entirely forsake the intimate company of women -- but he only gave them a night at a time, killing each in the morning. Of course, eventually the numbers don't work out any longer:
He had gone through the whole country, and only two girls, the daughters of the vizier, were left.
       The king weds Dīnārzād, but Shahrazād insists on going right along -- leaving her conveniently close at hand when killing-time approaches, and Dīnārzād can innocently suggest that her sister share one of her "excellent stories" before they get down to the life-ending business. Of course, Shahrazād knows how to spin a story -- and how to leave them hanging, allowing her to suggest, then and over the coming months:
"If you let my sister live another night I'll tell you an even more astonishing story."
       (Somewhat anti-climactically -- and oddly, given the cliff-hanger set-up of so many of the stories -- readers are informed early on that this went on for a hundred and one days, after which time Dīnārzād found herself pregnant, after which the king: "assured both of them of their safety and security, and Shahrazād ceased to come to him". Surely listeners and readers could have been kept in suspense about that to the bitter end ..... As is, even the only occasional reminder of the stakes -- "It's all over unless you tell me more of your amazing stories", the king does, at one point, remind Shahrazād -- fall a bit flat.)
       The stories themselves are often, at least in part, abrupt and generally fairly simple -- decisive (if often wrong-headed, because based on limited information) actions taken, with little room for nuance. Deception and betrayals are pervasive, with most things taken at face value: the most obvious explanation, or the one they're fed, is what characters choose to believe (and immediately, often rashly act on), even if the interpretation (or staging) is all a set-up to cover the actual goings-on -- which often works to very good comedic effect.
       The more elaborate stories are among the the most artfully and pleasingly played out, such as 'The Story of the Four Companions', as four companions with different expertise (a thief, a tracker, a carpenter, and an archer) compete for a beautiful young woman. While she's easily locked up at first, she escapes before they can decide who deserves her, and they then have to utilize their expertise to recapture her; eventually they agree to leave the decision as to who is most deserving up to Hārūn al-Rashīd. The king is in the middle of listening to a story from his storyteller Sahl when they reach him, and both he and his storyteller fall asleep, leading to the thief taking the storyteller's place, in order to be able to present their story to the king -- and to the king nodding off some more, all making for a comic mix of story-telling and reality
       The longest story is in fact one of multiple very short tales, the back and forth of 'The Story of the Prince and the Grand Viziers' (one of the two stories which is also found in similar form in the Arabian Nights). Here competing interests present examples that alternately make the case for and against the king going through with the death sentence he has imposed on his son. The easily swayed king is convinced each time -- and the short stories presented to him are among the collection's funniest (most notably the one about the poor husband who is granted three wishes and follows his wife's advice when she tells him: "Well, all you men think about is women, so ask Almighty God for more penises", with predictable results (so also then in what he does with the two remaining wishes in trying to rectify the situation)).
       With a mechanical flying horse, and other automata, along with the usual expected supernatural beings, there's a nice creative variety here too. A giant serpent -- and its gaze -- is among the most memorable of the creatures utilized here.
       Still, too often characters are paragons -- especially of beauty -- and general attitudes about relationships between the sexes are a bit crude, with many examples of characters of either sex very ready to hop in the sack with pretty much anyone who comes along (as well as rather too many disturbing examples of men forcing themselves on unwilling (or unconscious) women). But then these are stories that tend to get to the crux of whatever the matter is very quickly -- making for the fast, crude feel.
       Translator Fudge notes in 'A Note on the Text' that:
A glance at this Arabic edition will send chills down the spine of any competent language instructor. It would seem that every kind of linguistic error conceivable is well represented.
       He explains that text includes many of the loose Middle Arabic forms, giving it a distinctive feel, and while he has tidied it up some in the editing (including such basics as breaking the text into paragraphs) he also tried to maintain this feel. Presumably, those fluent in Arabic can appreciate this far better in this bilingual edition; certainly, only a few aspects of the text's linguistic and formal idiosyncrasies really come across in the English.
       While the stories can feel rather choppy, they still read quite well. They're certainly not polished pieces -- this is almost brute storytelling, getting to the essence and everything else be damned -- but that's also fitting given the supposed setting, of Shahrazād literally storytelling for her life. (Still, even by this measure the stories are a bit crude -- their length varying greatly, and the nightly cut-off points ranging from strong cliff-hangers to the seemingly arbitrary.)
       All in all, this is an enjoyable collection, with a good variety of stories (and presentation). A modern re-telling likely would embellish and polish a great deal here, but there's something to be said for this simple and often crude form too, and the stories still certainly manage to get to the point (though they don't always milk all the potential on hand).

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 September 2016

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Links:

A Hundred and One Nights: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       No author has been identified for this collection of stories.

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© 2016-2017 the complete review

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