One Thousand and One Nights

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One Thousand and One Nights is an ancient story retold through generations.  This particular edition was retold by Hanan Al-Shayk.  

This story takes place in an ancient Middle Eastern location.  A powerful king, King Shahrayar finds out that his wife has cheated on him so he has her and her lover killed.  But he isn't satisfied with this as justice.  Instead he decides to punish womankind in general.  He vows to every day marry a virgin, spend one night with her and then the following morning kill her.

His advisers try to reason with him but he will not reconsider.  One young woman, Shahrazad, the daughter of the king's trusted Vizier, volunteers to wed the king. The vizier tries to talk his daughter out of marrying the king who will surely put her to death, but she tells him of a plan she has to save her own life and the life of other women that he would marry. 

She marries the King and then just before he falls asleep at night she asks if she can tell him a story.  Thankfully, he consents and she then goes on to tell him an exciting story and leaves off at a cliffhanger so the King can't help but let her live another day so he can hear more of the story.  She continues this pattern day after day, telling story after story to buy herself another day of life.

That is the most interesting part of the story.  The fact that this young woman would show such wisdom and courage to risk her own life and marry a vengeful king in order to save countless other women was very inspiring.  And I was intrigued by the fact that she chose to do it by spinning a tale, or numerous tales.

The stories she tells the king are many and varied, but they do have some common themes about attraction, love, lust, betrayal and brutal revenge.

Most chapters contained violent, sexually graphic and often strange and disturbing things.  As I read story after story I came to the conclusion that the characters in these tales had no idea of what love really is, or forgiveness, or kindness.  A story would start out with a young man meeting a young woman and the two admiring each other's good looks.  Then, almost instantly, one of both of them would swear to love the other forever.  But that forever never lasted very long at all.

Something would always happen to come between them. Often jealousy would tear them apart, or control, or cruelty. Sometimes it was misunderstanding, sometimes it would be deliberate betrayal. Trust me, living happily ever after is not a concept you will find in this book.

While I was reading I kept on thinking about how it takes time to know a person, to know if you love them and for them to know if they love you.  Though there is almost always an immediate physical attraction, that is not enough to constitute love, as proven by these stories.

Hanan Al'Shayk did a great job telling the stories.  She has an excellent way of setting a scene that is very descriptive and really brings the settings to life.  The women represented in the stories are often very self aware and play a powerful role in what comes to pass. However, these factors were not enough to make me like this book, although I did find it more enjoyable to read than a couple of the previous titles.

I'm starting to feel like a Grinch or Scrooge when it comes to rating these books because it seems that I don't really like the books selected for this list. I am not sorry I read this novel, but I am glad it's done.  I found the graphic sex, extreme violence and cruelty off putting at best and disturbing at worst and definitely not what I was looking for in a book.