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The Seven Wise Princesses: A Medieval Persian Epic Hardcover – October, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
Tarnowska bases this multidimensional if uneven collection of tales on 12th-century Persian poet Nizami's epic poem Haft Paykar. One day, Bahram, the son of the shah of Persia, discovers a secret room in the grand palace built for him by the king of Yemen, to whom the shah has sent his son to be raised. The portraits of seven fetching princessesAfrom India, China, Russia, Greece, Arabia, Persia and MoroccoAline the chamber's walls, and Bahram vows he will one day meet these beauties. After his father's death and his ascension to shah, Bahram invites them to visit his own palace, and they each tell him a story, the morals of which convey the importance of patience, truth, faith, passion, serenity, fairness and devotion to God. Many of the plots are riveting, such as "The Raja Who Dressed in Black," who grows too impatient to achieve a kiss from the queen of Houris (fairies), or "The Story of Good and Bad," in which a good friend forgives the acts of a bad one; but others seem protracted and labyrinthine (e.g., the Moroccan princess's tale). The language does not achieve that of its poetic origins; the prose is often clunky or clich'd (a wealthy Egyptian is described as having been "born with a silver spoon in his mouth"). And readers may be caught off-guard by the abrupt ending of the frame story (Bahram disappears in a cave). Mistry's (Stories from the Silk Road) ornately bordered, gouache paintings effectively portray the thematic and chromatic content of each entry and include some lovely, intricate mosaics and patterns. Tarnowska's retelling offers insight into a range of cultural lore and symbolism, but may prove esoteric for many young readers. Ages 10-up. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Tarnowska provides the first English children's translation of Haft Paykar, or "Seven Beauties." Seven princesses leave their homelands upon the invitation of Shah Bahram of Persia and come to live in his palace, each one in a different colored pavilion. The Shah visits a different woman "on the day ruled by the appropriate planet" and each of the princesses relates a tale that entertains as well as instructs listeners. The stories illustrate "the ideals of sovereignty-truth, patience, perseverance, forgiveness, humility, wisdom, and love." Often there is a tale within a tale, and it all becomes a bit convoluted and tedious. The virtues, symbolism, and sensibilities are adult and have little to say to young readers. The length and similarity of the selections are also turnoffs. The gouache illustrations are plentiful and brightly colored. They incorporate some of the motifs of Persian miniatures, but are largely cartoonish in style. A lengthy author's note delineates the symbolism found in the stories. This masterpiece by the 12th-century Sufi poet Nizami may supplement representation of the Middle East in library collections, but it will have difficulty finding an audience on its own.-Kim Donius, Alfred-Almond Central School, Almond, NY
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
Teachers/Librarians: 4th to 8th grade. Much here for our upper elementary and middle school students. Detailed notes included.
I will say three things about this book. First, it is definitely medieval. It is comparable in violence and frightening ghouls to European medieval stories and fables. There are scenes of frightening demons, eyes being torn out, and threats of death to suitors that can't scale the palace walls, within these stories. This is not a gift for the very sensitive child.
Second, it is very Persian. I noticed that the reviews suggested that the stories within a story, and stories within the stories within a story, were "convoluted". Perhaps to the modern reader, but Persians and others from narrative cultures will be very pleased by these stories that can be understood on so many different levels. It is complex but not difficult for people accustomed to reading literature. The moral lessons told reflect universal ideals from a uniquely medieval Persian standpoint.
Being both medieval and Persian, the lessons are blunt. There is no question what the author intends the reader to understand, at least as far as the main lesson is concerned, though there remains enough ambiguity to keep it interesting.
Third is the "princess" or gender aspect of this book. One reason I chose this book was to highlight women characters for my daughter. I had not read Nizami's classic so I did not know that while the princesses are wise and great storytellers, they are not the subjects of the story. They are more intermediaries between Bahram, the main character, and the many male protagonists in their tales. This was a disappointment but it can't be helped considering that the epic was written nearly a thousand years ago, and it's not up for last-minute redaction.
I think this book is a great piece of literature for children, but not all children will be ready for it. I would suggest that every parent read it first before giving it to the child, or before reading it aloud, and be prepared to discuss certain moral lessons and events in the stories. This to me is the best part of the book. Because it does not talk down to children or soften things up too much, it brings them into a really great discussion with their family and opens up a whole world to them.