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Beyond the Devil's Teeth: Journeys in Gondwanaland Paperback – June 29, 2020
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Fast on the heels of his eerily timed epic, Timbuctoo, travel writer Tahir Shah delivers a fantastical new work of fiction drawn from the deepest wellsprings of human imagination. Scorpion Soup is a collection of stories-within-stories inspired by the Arabic masterpiece One Thousand and One Nights. The book employs a literary device known as the frame story in which one tale is recounted within another, resulting in a multi-dimensional narrative of never-ending twists and turns.
Shah, an Anglo-Afghan author living in Morocco, hails from a family steeped in an ancient tradition of eastern storytelling. In Scorpion Soup he resurrects the ancient literary device of his forebears, reminding us in the introduction that tales are a kind of magical machinery that can alter states of mind and change the way we think.
The book begins in a Barbary slave camp in the North African town of Oran a setting taken straight out of Shah s previous work. A Levantine sailor, captured by pirates and marched through the desert, finds himself chained to a wall with other brutalized captives awaiting ransom or death. Beaten and starved, the prisoner finds solace in a tale told to him in a faint whisper by the man lying beside him.
So begins the mesmerizing flight through the interwoven worlds that form the backdrop to Shah s tales. The author upends reality by shuffling its components, reworking its very DNA, to the tune of new possibilities. The reader is led into engrossing realms featuring Da Vinci-esque machines, talking animals, doorways leading into parallel dimensions and grotesque, monstrous djinn that may be some of the most frightening in all of literature. In this strange multi-verse, time and space cease their simplistic, predictable trajectories. The reader is awash in an entirely new experience.
Though distant and alien, Scorpion Soup s worlds are somehow reminiscent of our own. The all-too-familiar scent of human folly can be discerned wafting above the narrative s steaming broth. In The Singing Snakes, a cat in search of its destiny visits the land of dogs, whose friendly denizens are possessed by an irrational fear of singing snakes animals which they've never seen; in The Man Whose Arms Grew Branches, an Icelandic woodcutter, ignoring a dire warning from a bird, continues to wantonly chop down trees until he is transformed into a giant oak; while in The Most Foolish of Men an imbecile king holds a stupidity contest which is won by a clever vagabond named Yousef, whose winning display of behaviour is to hold a mirror to the king s face.
In the same way Yousef mocks the King, Shah s tales seem to reveal much about ourselves. And there is reason for this. Though tipping its hat to the Arabian Nights, Scorpion Soup is also an ode to a wider tradition. For over a millennium, savants in the Middle East and Central Asia (and their predecessors in other cultures) have used stories to transmit patterns of knowledge to individuals and cultures. Tradition asserts that, beyond serving an entertainment function, many such tales are in fact a refined form of technology, encapsulating elements designed to develop the mind of the reader, or listener.
For this reason, the title of Shah s book taken from one of its tales is not impertinent. Readers used to straightforward narratives, clean endings, and simplistic morals will feel the sting of Scorpion Soup s unusual structure. The book follows no conventions other than its own. Such discomfort, Shah might argue, is merely one of the more obvious impacts of the stories on the reader.
The limited print edition of Scorpion Soup... --The Toronto Review of Books, John Zada
About the Author
Tahir Shah is the of author fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia and the Americas. For him, there s nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dusty café and observe life go by. Insisting that we can all be explorers, he says there s wonderment to be found wherever we are it s just a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes.
In the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights, Shah s first 2013 release, SCORPION SOUP, is a treasury of nested tales. One linking effortlessly into the next, the stories form a cornucopia of lore and values, the kind that has for centuries shaped the cultural landscape of the East. Amusing, poignant, and thoroughly entertaining, the collection stays with you, conjuring a magic all of its own.
Shah s 2012 novel, TIMBUCTOO, is inspired by a true life tale from two centuries ago. The story of the first Christian to venture to Timbuctoo and back a young illiterate American sailor it has been an obsession since Shah discovered it in the bowels of the London Library twenty years ago.
He recently published a collection of his entitled TRAVELS WITH MYSELF, a body of work as varied and as any, with reportage pieces as diverse as the women on America s Death Row, to the trials and tribulations of his encounter in a Pakistani torture jail.
Another recent work, IN ARABIAN NIGHTS, looks at how stories are used in cultures such as Morocco, as a matrix by which information, values and ideas are passed on from one generation to the next. That book follows on the heels of the celebrated THE CALIPH S HOUSE: A Year in Casablanca, lauded as one of Time Magazine s Top 10 Books of the year.
His other works include an epic quest through Peru s cloud forest for the greatest lost city of the Incas (HOUSE OF THE TIGER KING), as well as a journey through Ethiopia in search of the source of King Solomon s gold (IN SEARCH OF KING SOLOMON S MINES). Previous to that, Shah published an account of a journey through the Amazon on the trail of the Birdmen of the Amazon (TRAIL OF FEATHERS), as well as a book of his experiences in India, as a godman s pupil (SORCERER S APPRENTICE).
Tahir Shah s books have appeared in thirty languages and in more than seventy editions. They are celebrated for their original viewpoint, and for combining hardship with vivid description.
He also makes documentary films, which are shown worldwide on National Geographical Television, and The History Channel. The latest, LOST TREASURE OF AFGHANISTAN, has been screened on British TV and shown worldwide. While researching the programme Shah was arrested along with his film crew and incarcerated in a Pakistani torture jail, where they spent sixteen terrifying days and nights.
His other documentaries include: HOUSE OF THE TIGER KING, SEARCH FOR THE LOST CITY OF GOLD, and THE SEARCH FOR KING SOLOMON S MINES. And, in addition to documentaries, Shah writes for the big screen. His best known work in this genre is the award-winning Imax feature JOURNEY TO MECCA, telling the tale of the fourteenth century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta s first pilgrimage to Mecca.
Tahir Shah lives at Dar Khalifa, a sprawling mansion set squarely in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown. He s married to the graphic designer, Rachana Shah, and has two children, Ariane and Timur. His father was the Sufi writer, Idries Shah.
- Publisher : Secretum Mundi; Limited Edition Hardcover (June 29, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 462 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0957242913
- ISBN-13 : 978-0957242913
- Item Weight : 1.29 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.16 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,704,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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