I’ve been writing a lot about the Arabian Nights, and some may find it rather curious, but I keep doing it because I keep learning and discovering this classic. I think it was a matter of time before I started getting notified about new editions and translations because Amazon recently told me about a new book scheduled for September 28:
A groundbreaking translation―along with new commentary and hundreds of images―enhances this celebratory publication of the most famous story collection of all time.
Starting in 1999 with the publication of The Definitive Annotated Alice, the Norton and Liveright annotated books have become the leading series of classic, illustrated works in the English language. The long-anticipated publication of The Annotated Arabian Nights extends this tradition with a strikingly modern translation―the first of Shahrazad’s tales into English by a woman―as well as erudite notes that will illuminate the stories for both dedicated readers and newcomers.
Yasmine Seale’s translations from both Arabic and French capture the musicality and rhythm of the Nights’ poetry and prose, while Paulo Lemos Horta’s annotations wrestle with the extraordinarily complex origins and history of the stories, showing that, far from being inventions of French antiquarians or English explorers, they have clear antecedents in Arabic folklore and tradition. This stunningly illustrated edition selects core stories as well as treasured later additions such as “Aladdin” and “Ali Baba” to offer an unparalleled account of a cornerstone of world literature that can be treasured by children, students, and literature-lovers alike.
I’ve been waiting for a book like this one since I started reading the edition I got at the beginning of the year. Although I was raised in an Arabic family and know a few customs, I am far from an expert. Muhsin Mahdi’s edition of the Arabian Nights is amazing, but it is not annotated, which leaves room for interpretation. However, this one is curated by a few experts in the field of Arabic literature.
Paulo Lemos Horta is Associate Professor Of Literature in the NYU Abu Dhabi. He is a scholar of world literature, the works, and authors who exert an impact beyond their cultures of origin. He is currently interested in the cross-cultural collaborations that influenced The Thousand and One Nights, and the reception of the works of 16th Century Portuguese author Luis de Camões, who lived in the Middle East and South Asia. Some of his books are Marvellous Thieves: Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights, published by Harvard University Press, a translation of The Book of Travels by Hanna Diyab, and an edition of Aladdin, a translation by Yasmine Seale.
Yasmine Seale, on the other hand, is a reviewer and writer on literature, art, myth, archaeology, and film; her writing has also appeared in ArabLit Quarterly. She has translated many texts, classical and contemporary, from Arabic and French. She is also the winner of the 2020 Wasafiri New Writing Prize for Poetry.
It includes an afterword by Robert Irwin, one of the most recognized international experts. He’s a novelist, historian, critic, and scholar. He is a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature. All his novels have enjoyed substantial publicity and commercial success although he is best known for The Arabian Nightmare which has been translated into twenty languages and is considered by many critics to be one of the great literary fantasy novels of the twentieth century. He also wrote the introductions for the translations by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons.
Finally, it also has a foreword by Omar Al Akkad, who was born in Cairo, Egypt, and grew up in Doha, Qatar, before moving to Canada. He worked as a journalist at The Globe and Mail, and his coverage of a 2006 terror plot earned him a National Newspaper Award for Investigative Reporting. His other journalistic work includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, the military trials at Guantánamo Bay, the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt, and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri. He has also received the Goff Penny Memorial Prize for Young Journalists, as well as three National Magazine Award honourable mentions. He is a graduate of Queen’s University. He now lives with his wife in the woods just south of Portland, Oregon.
As far as I’ve been able to see, there is not an official list of the tales included in this edition. There are a lot of tales related to the Arabian Nights, either those that are actually part of it, some which were added later, or even the so-called Orphan Tales. I any case, I think we can confidently say there will be some talk about this edition for some time.