Brazilian novelist Piñon (Caetana’s Sweet Song, 1992, etc.) forcefully brings out the erotic element in Scheherazade’s difficult and delicate situation as she spins the stories of One Thousand and One Nights to the Caliph of Baghdad.
The Caliph, it seems, found his wife in flagrante delicto with a slave and had her executed. Then he began to serially bed young women and have them killed immediately thereafter. Scheherazade, younger daughter of the Vizier, sets herself the task of breaking the chain of evil the Caliph has started. As we all know, her plan involves spinning out tales that catch his jaded imagination, tales so cunning and creative that he’ll keep her alive for another night, and another, and yet another. Of necessity Scheherazade “perfects the art of overlapping stories” and becomes “master of meager time.” Part of the price she pays, however, is the sex she must have every night with the Caliph, joyless couplings that disclose the state of his ennui. Joining Scheherazade at the Caliph’s palace, and at times colluding with her, are her older sister Dinazarda, whose emotions exist somewhere in the zone between envy and resentment, and their slave Jasmine, who intrigues to rise in the hierarchy of kitchen and stables. Both women discreetly withdraw when the nocturnal moment of sexual reckoning arrives. Ultimately, of course, Scheherazade becomes an allegory of the artist, spinning webs of words to capture the imagination. Toward the end of her storytelling tenure, Scheherazade grows weary and orchestrates a substitute bedmate for the Caliph, the first step on her road to freedom, though she has to find a substitute for her narrative art as well. Along the way she wonders whether it might not be preferable for the Caliph, “as a personal favor, to decree her death as a way to free herself from her destitute life.”
Emphasizing the teller rather than the tales, the author weaves an intricate narrative of aesthetics and sexual politics.