The Arabian Nightmare

Robert Irwin, Author Viking Books $16.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-81661-3
This higly original first novel is deliberately designed to madden: virtually plotless, it's nonetheless loaded with a cat's cradle tangle of mythic tales, with sibylline commentary from a host of wraithlike creatures, who are never what they seem, and with dream sequences that provide ample room for the author's playful dilations on the nature of illusion and reality. The narrator, who may or may not be Dirty Yoll, a Cairene storyteller of the 15th century, reaches forward through time to take Proust's opening line""For a long time I used to go to bed early''for his own. This, then, is to be a bedtime story that introduces Balian, an English pilgrim on his way to Mount Sinai. The English king has recruited him to spy on the Mameluke court in Cairo, but when he arrives there in 1486, he immediately contracts a mysterious disease that causes hallucinations powerful enough to threaten his sanity. The Father of Cats, seductive Zuleyka, Fatima the Deathly, the leper Knights of St. Lazarus and Yoll himself are just a few of the characters sent forth to mend or maim him. Augmented by some 19th century lithographs by David Roberts, which couple nicely with Irwin's sinuous prose, The Arabian Nightmare thrusts us into a landscape as convoluted as Cairo itself, yet by some magical slight-of-hand we at length come to recognize Balian's malady as one of our own. (October 6)
Reviewed on: 09/30/1987
Release date: 10/01/1987
Hardcover - 352 pages - 978-0-7139-9105-5
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-1-873982-05-1
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-1-873982-73-0
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-14-009863-1
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-1-58567-217-2
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-14-011216-0
Paperback - 342 pages - 978-1-86064-983-7
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