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The Arabian Nightmare Paperback – April 30, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Irwin's reissued 1983 classic combines the genres of travelogue, fable, dream narrative, novel and confessional into one beguiling whole. Balian, an English spy hired by France to go on a fact-finding mission to Cairo in 1486, is surprised when one of his fellow travelers is kidnapped. He is even more surprised when he is afflicted by the "Arabian Nightmare": he begins to have very confusing dreams and wakes up bleeding from the nose and mouth. A mysterious figure named the Father of the Cats claims to want to help Balian but does he? To make matters worse, there are rumors that a vicious murderer is on the loose in Cairo. Every attempt Balian makes to leave the city is foiled, as one supposedly well-intentioned figure after another leads him into the ever-deepening maze of the city's underworld, populated by whores, laughing dervishes, talking apes and lepers who all weave their respective spells with distinct power. Moving gracefully through a boggling number of reversals, stories-within-stories, and false solutions, the narrative winds its way toward a conclusion as baffling and profound as everything that has preceded it. There are plenty of moments when the story becomes too confusing to follow but this is clearly part of the plan. A work of fiction with the subtle, intoxicating architecture of a poem, this cult favorite clearly deserves renewed exposure and consideration. B&w illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This fascinating, rather complex first novel by a former medieval historian can be read on several levels. On the surface it is the picaresque tale of a young English pilgrim's trials and tribulations in late-15th-century Cairo. Recruited as a spy by the French king, he finds himself, or believes himself to be, pursued both during his waking and sleeping hours by an odd assortment of characters, from an old Egyptian magician to a leperous Christian knight. But the story is also a philosophic fantasyan exploration into the nature of dreams and storytelling and the ways in which they interface. Or is it really a journey into the schizophrenic mind where phantoms replace reality? While earthy and often quite humorous, the novel's intricacy is likely to put off the general reader. Those who like a challenge, however, will find their perseverance amply rewarded. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press; Reprint edition (April 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585672173
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585672172
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By flying-monkey on January 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
Quite probably one of the best books I have ever read and a doomed to be forgotten masterpiece of the twentieth century. The Arabian Nightmare is a dark narrative of a hallucinagenic fouteenth century Cairo. Talking apes, magicians, Caliphs and mysterious underworld figures drift in and out of the interlocking tales within tales. This is, as its title suggests, the Arabian Nights gone wrong; it is imposssible to know what is happening or even who is who at any moment. Comparable only to perhaps Gustav Meyrink or The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, this book is impossible to put down and will give you dangerous dreams for many a night. Absolutely superb.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Alan DeNiro on August 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book, in such a relatively compact space, unfolds and unfolds itself, into stories within stories within stories. The cast of characters is continually shuffled around in a landscape that is equal parts real and unreal. (Cairo itself IS a major character in the story.) The results are very entertaining, albeit very dark. The Father of Cats, in particular, is a particularly chilling villian. I read this book for a week, and each night I would read it in bed, before I fell asleep. Although I never had any nightmares from reading the book--the experience of my own drowsiness when reading the book reminded me of the central issues in the book. It teeters between the waking world and the dream world, and the book succeeds brilliantly when the two are indistinguishable.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
Set in the fifteenth century, this novel ostensibly tells the story of an English spy (or is it pilgrim?) who may possibly have contracted an unknown and unknowable illness while on sojourn in Egypt. The lines between waking and dream increasingly blur, and as with all dreams, the more that is revealed the less clear things become. A marvelous horror-fantasy, at once whimsical and terrifying, as well as a clever pastiche of "The Arabian Nights." Also, the best attempt at conveying the disjointed yet strangely patterned twists of dream logic on paper I have ever read. Highly recommended.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Simone Oltolina on January 24, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Robert Irwin borrows the stories-within-stories scheme, well known among Arab storytellers (think about the "arabian night" for instance....). At times this tecnique is taken to such an extent that you'll easily lose track of what's happening... but then who ever knows what's really happening in this oneiric wandering through the streets of Cairo? I tend to love everything that reeks of mystery and/or eccentricity and this novel definitely met my expectations. It's full of absurd, disturbing characters and intriguing machinations, all intertwined with tales/legends that stem from arab folklore. I couldn't put it down until it ended and... I definitely loved the ending ;-)
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