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This review is from: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 1 (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
If I had known what a sexy book this is, I probably would have read it in my early teens. It also would have been a great "head trip" in the late 1960s, with its mind-blowing structure of stories within stories within stories. There's a high violence quotient, too, as the book is rife with beheadings, castrations, maimings, and mutilations. Even though some of the sex scenes are fairly graphic, I would call them sensual rather than sensational. The framework for the stories is a ruler who so distrusts women that immediately after consummating his marriage he has his wives killed. His new bride, Shahrazad, prolongs her life by telling him a fascinating story after their lovemaking, but falling asleep before the story is finished, allowing her to live yet another day. And for a thousand and one nights the scene is repeated. Shahrazad's stories cover a vast array of subjects and styles. Some are moralistic stories about animals (similar to Aesop's Fables), some are comic sketches, and some are multigenerational sagas. There's high-flown poetry juxtaposed with lowbrow comedy. (Inopportune flatulence is a big laugh-getter.)
But what this 21st Century reader found interesting were the gender roles of the two sexes. In these stories the women are far more likely to be consumed with lust than men are and men are just as apt to swoon from emotion as any damsel. Several of the female characters disguise themselves as men in order to lead armies and win contests of swordsmanship. Everyone oohs and ahs over the beauty of both males and females. Several of the characters are homosexual (but they are invariably villainous). This is really provocative material.
This is only volume one and it's 960 pages that I read very quickly. The translation by Malcolm C. Lyons is a masterpiece. Both intellectually and sensually thrilling, ARABIAN NIGHTS is engrossing reading and I look forward to reading the other two volumes. Shahrazad lives. Five stars.