cover image Arabian Nights and Days

Arabian Nights and Days

Naguib Mahfouz, Najib Mahfuz. Doubleday Books, $22.95 (227pp) ISBN 978-0-385-46888-6

First published in Arabic in 1979, these 17 interlinked, eloquent tales, loosely based on the classic Arabian Nights, reveal a more playful side of Pulitzer Prize-winning Egyptian novelist Mahfouz. Dispensing with the plot device whereby Scheherazade spins 1001 successive tales, Mahfouz weaves an entertaining arabesque of intrigue, betrayal, obsessive love, social injustice, reincarnations and wrongs righted or made worse. Here, free choice and the burden of circumstance are pieces of a mosaic shaped by fate and God's unpredictable ways. In ``Sindbad,'' the legendary adventurer recounts his seven voyages, drawing radical lessons from them (``To continue with worn-out traditions is foolishly dangerous''). In ``Aladdin with the Moles on His Cheeks,'' humble barber Aladdin and a sheikh discuss the proper way to live and worship. With his usual psychological acuity and a keen sense of social and political realities, Mahfouz delivers a revised classic that skewers hypocrisy, greed and corruption, especially of those in power. (Jan.)