Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Pub Date: December 26, 2007
The book's alluring cover and beguiling title made it impossible not to pick up and for the most part I am glad I did.
Tahir Shah, son of Sufi poetry scholar and translator, Idries Shah, moved his young family from England for the sunshine and warmth of his childhood home, Morocco. "The Caliph's House" was Shah's first book written from his new home in Casablanca, Morocco and "In Arabian Nights" is the sequel.
"In Arabian Nights" continues the saga of the house called "Dar Khalifa", its guardians (servants) and its motley crew of visitors but it also involves Shah's search for the legendary story tellers of Morocco (the Moroccans have a wonderful tradition of oral storytelling)and more importantly, his pursue of a time-honored Berber quest: to find the story in his heart. The quest for his heart's story takes him from the teeming streets of Tangier in the north, through the the ancient labyrinthine lanes and bazaars of Marrakech and Fez, to the solitary sands of the Sahara in the south.
The entrance to the 14th-century Bou Inania school and mosque, which like much of Fez is a place of legend and mystery.
The book is filled with an entourage of colorful characters ( including an exorcist, a blind-story teller and a Tuarag tribesman from the Sahara desert) and is packed to the brim with wondrous Arab tales and filled with the sights and sounds of Morocco which made me wish I could summon my magic carpet and have it carry me away to this place.
Although "In Arabian Nights" is the successor to "The Caliph's House" it is very different in tone. I enjoyed seeing that there exists a corner of the world where the tradition of oral story telling is more popular than books. Also, Shah helps you realize that a story is so much more than entertainment. Here in the west we read because we want to be entertained and we want to be informed. There is no dearth of the printed word and as a result we are constantly speed reading through a book in order to get to the next one. In places where stories are passed on orally, people listen to the same story over and over and will move on to the next only after the story with its symbols and meanings is truly understood by the listener. Do we ever really "understand" the stories we read or do we just carry away a superficial message and then move on to the next book? In other words, are we being short-changed when we do not re-read a novel? Also, there is that question of committing stories to memory. Are there merits in doing that? These are just some of the questions Shah poses through the book making it a very thoughtful read.