Forty-five (compressed from the original 1,001) nights of interwoven stories map Scheherazade’s courageous campaign to heal the heart of her murderous and disillusioned husband—and save her own life in the bargain.
Drawn from authoritative sources and retold in plain (and, aside from references to the Almighty, nonreligious) language, the selections are arranged in several sequences of nights, with “extras” interposed and interludes that set up and flesh out the frame story. Brave and clever women stand out in these versions, notably Ali Baba’s wife, Marjana, the princess who marries Maaruf the Cobbler (and Maaruf’s comically abusive first wife, Dung Fatima)—and especially Scheherazade herself, who over the many nights, any one of which could be her last, presents Shah Rayar with three children as well as tantalizingly strung-out adventures featuring moral quandaries, decisions wise and foolish, reversals of fortune, love, and wisdom’s growth. Overall, Napoli sees the Arabian Nights as more “optimistic” than the Greek, Norse, or ancient Egyptian mythologies she has explored in previous collections in this series: “There is a strong sense that good behavior will lead to good results and that the world is basically a lot more delightful than it is frightful.” Balit whirls bright patterns around stylized figures to add notes of grandeur to each tale. Faces are light-skinned, but she does add hints of regional features and dress for stories set in “China” or “the Indies.”
A brilliant tapestry woven not of yarn but of stories, both fresh and faithful to its historical roots. (introduction, index, extensive source notes) (Folk tales. 10-14)