cover image Voices of the Desert

Voices of the Desert

Nelida Pinon, , trans. from the Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers. . Knopf, $24.95 (254pp) ISBN 978-0-307-26667-5

Brazilian author Piñon (Caetana’s Sweet Song ) returns with a new interpretation of Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights , this time told from Scheherazade’s point of view. In ancient Baghdad, with the cuckolded caliph avenging his wife’s betrayal by marrying a new virgin daily and beheading her the following morning, the young high-born Scheherazade plans to end this violent cycle. After ceding to the caliph’s methodical advances on their wedding night, Scheherazade asks permission to tell him a story. With her sister Dinazarda and the slave girls Djauara and Jasmine complicit in the scheme, Scheherazade tells her magnificent tales, each cliffhanger buying her another day. Instead of narrating the tales themselves, Piñon’s elegantly translated prose focuses on her characters’ passions, desires and obsessions in a world where the veiled females are powerful and powerless, demure yet erotic. Emphasizing the paradoxical nature of this existence, Piñon’s treatment of sexuality is at once clinical and kinky, and her frequent inversion of sexual power structures serves as the psychoanalytic motivation for her divergent rendering of the legend’s conclusion. (Aug.)