Marvellous Thieves: Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights
In all of literature, there is no collection more elusive or evocative than The Arabian Nights. It encompasses a thousand and one nights of storytelling, and yet there is no definitive version of the collection, no touchstone by which all others can be measured. Each translation has its own flavor, its own feeling, its own motivation, and its own legacy. And Marvellous Thieves puts them all under the same microscope.
Paulo Lemos Horta sets a phenomenal task for himself: studying the authors who translated the Arabian Nights (or stole the work of other translators) and encapsulating how each shaped their version of the tales. He hunts down lost sources for those 1,001 stories, ponders how the changes made to each suited the authors’ preconceived notions, and laments how clever female characters were so often downgraded or ignored entirely in several collections, robbing many of the stories of the strong characterization that made them such satisfying reads.
This is literary history come alive, and Horta makes each edition of the tales feel like an important footstep in a narrative legacy stretching back centuries. Some of those translators may have been marvelous thieves, but Horta shows how we all shared in their riches.
Paulo Lemos Horta
Harvard University Press
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