Thursday, August 14, 2008

Night & Horses & The Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature

I don't usually read anthologies from cover to cover, but Robert Irwin’s Night and Horses and the Desert is the exception.

The interesting thing about this book is that the real meat of it is Irwin's commentary. The author of the modern classic The Arabian Nightmare (as well as a companion guide to the Arabian Nights), he's a very astute guide to this world, and I looked forward every night to reading something that gave me a smile. This is to say, there is just enough humor in the commentary without being precious or silly. Perhaps due to Irwin’s interests, there is an emphasis in the anthology on the gothic (for want of a better word) and the fantastic. There are minimal religious texts, but plenty of texts relating to wine and debauchery.

The breadth of Irwin's knowledge is amazing. There might be room for quibbles about what has been put in or left out, and some readers may lament that the book is rather light on actual texts, but as a crash course in Arabic literature from pre-Islamic times to the rise of the Ottomans, it is a fascinating read. Highly recommended.

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