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Hanan Al-Shaykh

Author of Women of Sand and Myrrh

18+ Works 1,815 Members 44 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Hanan al-Shaykh was born & raised in Lebanon. She is the author of three novels - "Women of Sand & Myrrh", "The Story of Zahra" & "Beirut Blues" - as well as a collection of short stories, "I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops". She currently lives in London with her husband & two children. (Bowker Author show more Biography) show less

Works by Hanan Al-Shaykh

Associated Works

Granta 77: What We Think of America (2002) — Contributor — 217 copies
Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul (1994) — Contributor — 213 copies
The Penguin Book of International Women's Stories (1996) — Contributor — 114 copies
A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer (2007) — Contributor — 105 copies
The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction (2006) — Contributor — 102 copies
Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing (1990) — Contributor — 99 copies
Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World (2010) — Preface — 93 copies
The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write (2017) — Contributor — 74 copies
Without a Guide: Contemporary Women's Travel Adventures (1994) — Contributor — 61 copies
Under the Naked Sky: Short Stories from the Arab World (2000) — Contributor — 27 copies
I Am Heathcliff: Stories Inspired by Wuthering Heights (2018) — Contributor — 25 copies
Coming of Age Around the World: A Multicultural Anthology (2007) — Contributor — 24 copies
Arabic Short Stories (1983) — Contributor — 22 copies
We Wrote In Symbols: Love and Lust By Arab Women Writers (2021) — Contributor — 16 copies
Leave to Stay: Stories of Exile and Belonging (1996) — Contributor — 4 copies
Banipal 64: A Rebel Named Hanan Al-Shaykh (2019) — Contributor — 1 copy


Common Knowledge



archivomorero | 10 other reviews | May 21, 2023 |
A very readable selection and arrangement of stories from Alf layla wa layla which after the standard introduction brings together both characters of and storytellers of the tales in the home of sisters who have had all sorts of misfortunes at the hands of husbands but who remain in the prime of life. The chosen stories are almost all centered more around lovers and spouses rather than powerful magic and stirring adventure.
quondame | 8 other reviews | Dec 15, 2022 |
Shahrayer’s wife betrayed him by taking part in massive orgies. She was seen by Shahrayer’s brother Shahaman who duly reported it. In an act of retribution, Shahrayer not only executed his wife but vowed to take a new untouched virgin each night, deflower her and execute her at dawn.

Until, of course, Shahrazad volunteered to become one of the doomed virgins. She mesmerized the king with her storytelling who agreed to let her finish her story before she was executed.

Stories within stories within stories. It’s a bit like the Noel Harrison song Windmills of your Mind: “like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel - Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel”.

Author Hannan Al-Shayk chose to beautifully retell nineteen of these stories. According to Wikipedia she chose to leave the stories continuing while the traditional ending is that after one thousand and one nights the stories end, and Shahrazad presented Shahrayer with the three children she had borne during the telling of the tales.

A few quotes:

Foreward by Mary Gaitskill:”The action of the stories in One Thousand and One Nights is dark and full of cruelty – especially toward women who are constantly being accused of adultery and then murdered or beat up. But the animating spirit here is light and full of play, especially on the part of the female characters, who are consistently resourceful and witty”. P.x

Author’s Preface : “I heard that a girl in my class had Alf Layl wa layl, (One Thousand and One Nights) and I hurried with her to peer at a few volumes in a glass cabinet, next to a carved tusk of an elephant. The volumes were leather- bound, their titles engraved in gold. I asked my friend if I might touch one, but she said that her father always locked the cabinet and kept the key in his pocket, because he said he feared that if anyone finished the stories they would drop dead. Of course I didn’t know then, and neither did my friend, that the reason her father didn’t want any of the women of the house to read Alf Layla wa Layla was because of its explicit sexuality.” Pxvii

“I felt as if I had opened the door of a carriage which took me back into the heart of my Arab heritage, and to classical Arab language, after a great absence. I was astonished at how our forebears had shaped our societies, showing us how to live our daily lives, through these tales which were filled with insights and moral and social rules and laws, without the influence of religion, but derived from first hand experience and deepest natural feelings towards every living thing. The effect of Alf Layl wa layl was so strong and real that Arab societies shaped themselves around it; the names of its characters were embedded in our language, becoming proverbs, adjectives and eve modes of speech. I was in awe of the complex society the stories evoked, which allowed relationships between humans and jinnis and beasts, real and imaginary.” P xviii
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streamsong | 8 other reviews | Nov 22, 2022 |
Zahra, the protagonist, suffers from mental disorders. Some of it may be nature, but most of it is definitely from nurture. Her mother uses her to pretend that they're going on errands, while she goes to her sexual meetings. Her father beats the crap out of her all the time.
She's looking for the love that she's denied in her childhood, so when a man at her work takes her after work to have sex with her and use her, She goes along with it, not understanding why, just letting herself be used.
She doesn't know about birth control, so she gets pregnant. She wants to escape from the craziness of her home, so she goes to stay with her uncle in Egypt. But she's afraid of her uncle, afraid that he wants to get intimate with her, and so constantly locks herself in the bathroom.
A friend of her uncle wants to get married, so he zeros in on Zahra as an easy conquest.
To escape from the uncertainty of living with her uncle, she agrees to marry this man. But she can't stand him wanting to have sex with her, so she always locks herself in the bathroom.
Her whole life is just a repeat of this. It's a misery! It's only because it's a fiction, that saves me from being so sad for this character.
Some of the scenes in this book are so very strange. Here's one, after the protagonist's mother aborted twins:
"I remember the neighbors pouring into the bedroom to greet my mother, then peering into the soup dish where the tiny embryos swam. And then exclaiming, 'in the name of Allah, the all merciful. Blessed be the Creator. Look, here is a fully developed creature.' but one was more forthright and asked, 'why abortion after abortion?' another grew more outspoken still, and spat, swearing and shoving the dish aside 'I spit on the human being. Is this how we all are created - as minute as a fingernail becoming as huge as mules!' "
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burritapal | 3 other reviews | Oct 23, 2022 |



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