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Damascus Nights Hardcover – October, 1993


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 263 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1 edition (October 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374134464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374134464
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,828,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This wonderful book is enlightening and endearing, witty and wise. Salim the coachman tells enchanting tales, but suddenly he is struck dumb. Just as Scheherazade told tales to save her life, Salim's friends must spin yarns to save his speech. Set in Damascus in 1959, the novel alternates the real lives of our storytellers with stories from the distant past. These are neither fables nor fairy tales with everlasting, happy endings, and they often require readers to suspend their disbelief. Each chapter is preceded by a one-line hint of what is to come, such as "How one person's true story was not believed, whereas his most blatant lie was." The author ( A Hand Full of Stars , Dutton Children's Books, 1990), who is a professional storyteller in Germany, has written a book appropriate for both adults and young adults. It is also a terrific book to read aloud. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.
- Olivia Opello, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Damascus-born, Germany-based children's writer Schami delivers an occasionally charming but more often unmoving tale of Arabian nights and a determined effort to help a master yarnspinner regain his lost ability to speak. In 1950's Damascus, Salim the old coachman had a well-earned reputation as a fabulous storyteller--before his good fairy deserted him and left him mute and inconsolable. His friends rally around to find a cure, proposing that he drink seven wines and cross seven mountains to sleep in seven foreign cities, but to no avail, before hitting on a plan to spend seven evenings together, with each of them telling Salim his own tale. Teacher Mehdi speaks of Shafak the carpenter's helper, who once told him of why he faithfully watched two stars chasing each other; Junis the caf‚ owner recounts his wondrous childhood, and his sadness at having betrayed a good-hearted benefactor who minted his own money; Tuma the emigrant shares some of his adventures in America, which included trying to barter in a New York department store; Faris the ex-minister puts his listeners to sleep with a tale of a king who wanted a son and who lost his hearing because of his single- mindedness. Finally, the locksmith brings his wife to speak in his stead, and Fatmeh's story of a woman whose voice enchanted a monster in his lair proves the charm that breaks Salim's silence. The magic of the various tales is undermined when the speakers revert to their ordinary selves--but the moments when the spell holds are binding indeed. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
Damascus nights is indeed written like a delightful story based on the ancient 1001 nights. There are however some dark under-currents and echoes of other important pieces of literature. Do you not hear the echoes of other horsemen, of the darkness of the Apocalypse in the distance? Like Gullivers Travels this book can be read on so many levels. Enjoy it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jordan Reiter on April 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is an engaging read, and can be read as a collection of tales wrapped in another tale, perhaps a modern take of 1001 Arabian Nights. The main thrust of the tale concerns an old coach driver who has apparently been struck dumb and who, with the help of his friends, must figure out how to regain his speech before he will lose the power of words forever. At the same time, it is as much a story of Damascus in (I think) the 1950s, when it is becoming modern and how the main character and his elderly friends deal with the changes around them. But ultimately, it is about their stories: some fantastical, some very down to earth, one which sounds normal to us but is too fantastical to be believed by his friends.

A really rewarding book to read, I always feel energized reading this book. Storytellers, aspiring storytellers, and all those who love to hear and tell stories should read this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul Easton on May 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
I would agree with the earlier reviews, that this is an engaging, well-wrought tale that will appeal to all readers. For years, I have taught an interdisciplinary course on modern world history / literature, and thought this an excellent introductory novel, on par with the work like Mahfouz's Children of the Alley. It is engaging, sophisticated, and deceptively simple.

I can only imagine that this novel was mis-marketed to either a young-adult audience, or as a modernized Arabian Nights (at least the later makes sense). Why, why, why is this out of print? Given the geo-political events of our century, this book would be taught in schools, were it available.

PJE
English Teacher, New Trier High School
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Cary Watson on May 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In One Thousand and One Nights, the great Arab classic of fantasy and adventure, Scheherazade tells 1,001 stories to her husband King Shahryar. The king has killed every one of his previous wives after one night of marriage. Clever Scheherazade keeps herself alive by telling the king a new story every night but leaving it unfinished by dawn. The king keeps her alive in order to hear the end of the story the next night. In this way Scheherazade keeps herself alive until the king eventually realizes the error of his ways and agrees to spare her life.

Rafik Schami takes the basic concept of this classic of Arabian literature and sets it in Damascus in 1959. Salim the Coachman, a famous storyteller who has spent most his life driving a coach between Damascus and Beirut, is visited in a dream by his good fairy. The fairy tells him that she's the one who's helped make him a great storyteller, but now she's retiring and he will lose his voice. She's asked the king fairy for a favour on Salim's behalf: if he receives seven unique gifts within three months he will regain his voice and once again be a great storyteller. Salim has seven friends who gather at his house once a week to listen to his stories. They try everything to bring back his voice, but nothing, not special food or trips away, works to return Salim's voice. Finally, the friends get the idea to take it in turns telling a story to Salim, and, after he's been told seven stories, Salim does get his voice back.

On one level this novel is a celebration of the Arab tradition of storytelling. Schami effortlessly constructs all kinds of stories, from the traditional featuring demons and fairies, to contemporary tales highlighting the character of Damascus and Syria in 1959.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 26, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I received this book as a gift from a german friend living in the Us. She had recieved it as a gift (The german edition) from her sister living in Germany. I have since given several copies of it as gifts. A great story good for children of all ages 4-94 y/o
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