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Book Review: Desert Songs of the Night

by Eddie Rayner

From the spiritual imagery of the Qur’an and the vibrant stories of The Thousand and One Nights through to the eloquent verses of longing of Mahmoud Darwish and Nazik al-Mala’ika, Desert Songs of the Night: 1500 Hundred Years of Arabic Literature provides a beautiful introduction to some of the finest poetry and prose by Arab writers.

This captivating, 480-page collection includes translated excerpts of works not only by the major authors, but also by lesser-known writers of equal significance. The UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper describes it thus: ‘An arresting collection … Dipping into this enchanting anthology one is struck by the sheer variety of voices that have emerged from the Arab world … Hopefully, Desert Songs of the Night should inspire more English speakers to study this wonderful language and render afresh its magnificent literary heritage.’

1,500 years of Arab literary genius

Taking in work from the Middle East over to Andalusia, this book is beautifully produced and features fifteen centuries of literature still largely unknown by Western audiences.

Hanan al-Shaykh, Lebanese novelist, short-story writer and playwright, and one of the most important modern-day women writers in the Arab world, commented: “At a time when the world is obsessing about violence and bloodletting in the Arab world, this remarkable anthology, which spans 1,500 years of Arab literary genius, is a stark reminder of the untold story we keep missing about the region.”

The editors bring authority to the book, too, with a vast knowledge of the subject. Suheil Bushrui (1931-2015) was an eminent author, poet, critic and translator, and the recipient of numerous international awards. His works are extensive in English and Arabic and include The Wisdom of the Arabs, The Prophet: A New Annotated Edition, and The Spiritual Heritage of the Human Race. James M. Malarkey, meanwhile, is a specialist on Middle Eastern and North African affairs and, amongst his many credits, has taught Cultural Studies at the American University of Beirut, Linguistics at the University of Constantine, Algeria, and World Classics at Antioch University McGregor.

Desert Songs of the Night is a must-read for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of their adopted home while being thoroughly entertained by some of the finest writing humankind has ever produced.