ARABIAN NIGHTS AND DAYS

An austerely modern reworking of The Thousand and One Nights — the most magical work yet set into English by Egyptian Nobel laureate Mahfouz (The Harafish, 1994, etc.). Although these intertwined fables are, like the volume that inspired them, set in the past, they deal with all-too-modern consequences of fairy-tale adventures. In "Nur Al-Din and Dunyazad," peerless storyteller Shahrzad's sister dreams of the perfume seller and wakens to find herself pregnant by him, with all the contemporary burdens of unwanted pregnancy. In "Sanaan al-Gamali," a merchant, purchasing his life from a genie he has crossed, is ordered to kill the corrupt governor; but when Sanaan goes to see him, the governor, every inch the modern wheeler-dealer, asks if he can marry Sanaan's daughter, offers his own daughter as a bride for Sanaan's son, and announces his plan to sign an enormous contract with one of Sanaan's relatives. In "The Cap of Invisibility," a righteous man accepts a magical gift on the condition that he be allowed to do "anything except what [his] conscience dictates"; he then faces moral dilemmas the original Arabian Nights never dreamed of. This is a world of endless transformations: A buried girl is brought back to life; after being executed, a governor is reincarnated as a porter and finds himself wooing his own wife; a sultan passes into an otherworldly domain of love and bliss in which he can't remain. The only certainties are the cruel whims of the genies ("The best would be if she were to be killed, and her father were to commit suicide," muses one of them) and the ritual executions of corrupt governors, private secretaries, chiefs of police. The obvious comparison in English is John Barth's Chimera — but Mahfouz's greater faith in old-fashioned narrative allows him to weave modernist psychology and legendary rhetoric, making his Arabian Nights both disturbing and spellbinding.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-46888-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1994

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Briskly written soap with down-to-earth types, mostly without the lachrymose contrivances of Hannah’s previous titles...

BETWEEN SISTERS

Sisters in and out of love.

Meghann Dontess is a high-powered matrimonial lawyer in Seattle who prefers sex with strangers to emotional intimacy: a strategy bound to backfire sooner or later, warns her tough-talking shrink. It’s advice Meghann decides to ignore, along with the memories of her difficult childhood, neglectful mother, and younger sister. Though she managed to reunite Claire with Sam Cavenaugh (her father but not Meghann’s) when her mother abandoned both girls long ago, Meghann still feels guilty that her sister’s life doesn’t measure up, at least on her terms. Never married, Claire ekes out a living running a country campground with her dad and is raising her six-year-old daughter on her own. When she falls in love for the first time with an up-and-coming country musician, Meghann is appalled: Bobby Austin is a three-time loser at marriage—how on earth can Claire be so blind? Bobby’s blunt explanation doesn’t exactly satisfy the concerned big sister, who busies herself planning Claire’s dream wedding anyway. And, to relieve the stress, she beds various guys she picks up in bars, including Dr. Joe Wyatt, a neurosurgeon turned homeless drifter after the demise of his beloved wife Diane (whom he euthanized). When Claire’s awful headache turns out to be a kind of brain tumor known among neurologists as a “terminator,” Joe rallies. Turns out that Claire had befriended his wife on her deathbed, and now in turn he must try to save her. Is it too late? Will Meghann find true love at last?

Briskly written soap with down-to-earth types, mostly without the lachrymose contrivances of Hannah’s previous titles (Distant Shores, 2002, etc.). Kudos for skipping the snifflefest this time around.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-45073-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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