Voices of the Desert

The re-imagining of fictional characters as a literary trope has given us startling new perspectives on a host of supporting players. For instance, as protagonist in Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette trumps her successor, Jane Eyre, as a sensitive woman buffeted by circumstance and convention. Now Scheherazade takes her own sinuous turn in the spotlight in the pages of Nélida Piñon?s seductive and accomplished Voices of the Desert. Scheherazade?s tales of romance, adventure, and intrigue have captivated imaginations for centuries, but not much is known about the woman behind those thousand and one nights of storytelling. Piñon deftly lifts this veil of obscurity and presents a portrait of a gifted young girl whose generosity will birth legends. As the privileged daughter of one of the Caliph?s most trusted advisors, Scheherazade witnesses the incredible cruelty of the cuckolded ruler firsthand as he exacts revenge on his cheating wife by killing her, as well as an ensuing daily succession of young virgins brought to his bed. Determined to save more girls from this fate, Scheherazade bets on the power of her stories and offers herself next. Though the caliph is incapable of love, he?s mesmerized by the silken whispers of Scheherazade that command the voices of slaves, genies, nomads, and thieves. This, coupled with dramatic descriptions of Baghdad?s bazaars, the desert, and the world beyond, allows the caliph to experience and understand his realm, its subjects, and, ultimately, himself -- without ever leaving the palace. Piñon's hypnotic prose employs the repetition and cadence of storytellers in the oral tradition. By peeling back layer after layer of Scheherazade?s psyche, Voices of the Desert transcends the social landscape of 13th-century Persia to reveal timeless lessons about the tensile strength of the human heart and the art of soulful narrative.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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