Although many of its stories originated centuries ago in the Middle East, the Arabian Nights is regarded as a classic of world literature by virtue of the seminal French and English translations produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Supporting the suspicion that the story collection is more Parisian than Persian, some of its most famous tales, including the stories of Aladdin and Ali Baba, appear nowhere in the original sources. Yet as befits a world where magic lamps may conceal a jinni and fabulous treasures lie just beyond secret doors, the truth of the Arabian Nights is richer than standard criticism suggests.
“Marvellous Thieves, which draws on hitherto neglected sources, is a brilliant, fluent and original work of literary scholarship.”
—Robert Irwin, Literary Review
“This fine book…cogently probes an influential period in the knotted and at times sordid history of the Arabian Nights, serving as a fine example to those unraveling this promiscuous and forever malleable set of stories.”
—Charles Shafaieh, Wall Street Journal
“Intelligent and engrossing…The great merit of Horta’s book is that its interest always lies in the story of the story, in mapping out the complex network of the translators, editors and travellers behind the Arabian Nights, in ways that enrich our sense of this remarkable text.”
—Shahidha Bari, Times Higher Education
Marvellous Thieves, which draws on hitherto neglected sources, is a brilliant, fluent, and original work of literary scholarship.
Paulo Horta has uncovered a mass of fresh evidence about key figures in the making of the Arabian Nights and communicates his startling findings with a storyteller’s verve, raising many fascinating issues about the interplay of invention, imitation, translation, and plagiarism, and probing the vexed effects of the imperial gaze and the acquisition of local expertise and languages. In Marvellous Thieves, Paulo Horta has written a highly entertaining, attentive, and scholarly work of literary detection.
This fine book…cogently probes an influential period in the knotted and at times sordid history of the Arabian Nights, serving as a fine example to those unraveling this promiscuous and forever malleable set of stories.
A nimble study of the Arabian Nights and its provenance.
[A] vivid, intellectually lively and revelatory book…The real point about this clever book is that many of the things we think about modernity—let alone postmodernity—have already happened. Postmodernism says that the book is always fluid; no text shows this as clearly as Arabian Nights. There can be no perfect version. It shows that authors are also collaborators, translators, plagiarists, elusive.
Intelligent and engrossing…The great merit of Horta’s book is that its interest always lies in the story of the story, in mapping out the complex network of the translators, editors and travellers behind the Arabian Nights, in ways that enrich our sense of this remarkable text.
Drawing on resources that include the Vatican Library, [Marvellous Thieves] offers some fascinating revelations about the translation efforts that turned the Arabian Nights—also known as One Thousand and One Nights—into the world’s inheritance…Horta’s book has come out at a time when geopolitical developments give it added poignancy. The election of Donald Trump, the vote for Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties in Europe have signaled a surging antipathy towards the idea of an interconnected world…In this context, reading Marvellous Thieves is a reminder of the blessings that can come from global commerce and communion.
In writing a biography of 200 years of Nights’ translation, with its multiplicity of voices, sources, contexts and prejudices, Horta has breathed life into another great story to emerge from the Thousand and One Nights.
A fascinating work of cultural and literary history…An insightful examination of a significant literary work and the fraught complexities of translation.
In this enchanting work, Horta focuses on the European translations of The Arabian Nights that brought these Middle Eastern tales to a wide western audience…His fascinating search for the origins of The Arabian Nights as it exists today reveals a multitude of storytellers nearly as colorful as Sinbad or Aladdin.
[In] this well-researched and highly engaging work, readers will uncover the origins of the Arabian Nights as it exists today in the West. This work is a major contribution to the study of the complexities inherent in translating such a masterpiece.
Horta takes the reader across empires and trade routes to discover the hidden networks of textual transmission which produced the Arabian Nights…Horta's multi-lingual research and his rich narrative style make for exciting reading.
A work of meticulous cultural and literary history…This is a fascinating story of the many voices that narrated, authored, retold, embellished and translated the stories of Scheherazade; it is also an exploration into how stories travel.
- 384 pages
- Harvard University Press
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