Kirkus Reviews QR Code
NIGHT AND HORSES AND THE DESERT by Robert Irwin

NIGHT AND HORSES AND THE DESERT

An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature

By Robert Irwin

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2000
ISBN: 1-58567-064-2
Publisher: Overlook

This lavish collection of prose and poetry spanning the 4th through 16th centuries is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. Novelist and “eminent Arabist scholar” Irwin, whose books include Exquisite Corpse (1997) and The Arabian Nights: A Companion (1994), blends extensive and illuminating commentary (virtually in itself a small separate volume of exemplary criticism) with generous selections from The Qu’ran, medieval love and court poetry, and narrative forerunners of the modern novel (including, though by no means limited to, the epochal Thousand and One Nights). Among the most intriguing of many dazzling entries: Aristotelian polymath al-Jahiz’s Kitab al-Hayawan (Book of Animals); the “sorcerer’s manual” Ghayat al-Hakim (“story-telling thinly disguised as magical instruction”); the work of writer-adventurer Usamah ibn Munqidh (a medieval Arabic Richard Burton); and Firdawsi’s 12th-century “Shahnama” (“one of the longest poems in the world”).

Magic carpets, djinns emerging from bottles, and both lyric grace and earthy realism are prominently featured—in an indispensable anthology that has the breadth of an encyclopedia and the immediacy of a fascinating tale told by a fireside.