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In a new collection that brings together the work of eleven notable translators, with an introduction by the bestselling Iranian-American author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi, and original illustrations by Syrian artist Rama Duwaji, the Restless Classics edition of 1,001 Nights showcases the breadth and imagination of these legendary tales from the Arab world.
Beginning as an oral storytelling tradition long before the first authoritative manuscript was composed in the 14th century in Syria, which was rendered into French in the 1700s, spawning an exoticized portrait of the "Orient" that still informs Western stereotypes, the tales of the 1,001 Nights have captivated readers for centuries. We begin with violence, and the power of storytelling: When his wife is unfaithful, King Shahryar takes revenge on all womankind by marrying a virgin and murdering her at the end of every night--until one named Scheherazade asks to tell a story to her sister. When dawn comes and the story is still unfinished, Shahryar allows her to live and continue the tale the next night--and Scheherezade does so for one thousand and one nights until the King gives up on killing.
In her insightful introduction to the Restless Classics edition of 1,001 Nights, Iranian author Azar Nafisi describes Scheherezade as the true heroine of the tales for those in oppressive regimes who find power and courage in her example: "Shahrzad's own story contains a hidden theme, old and timeless--the theme of what can happen when reality closes all doors; when life seems uncontrollable and unchangeable; when life means death; when one's own life appears to be an insoluble puzzle and only one's own imagination can lead one out of a predicament."
There is another vital protagonist in the history of this book: the translator. Told and retold and recreated in the process, these tales are a case study of translators as co-creators. Over the centuries, each translator, deliberately and otherwise, has added to the narrative current, shaping this endless river of stories that is never the same twice. The Restless Classics edition is the first to showcase a wide variety of English translations, presenting a new frame to experience the 1,001 Nights.