A Thousand Nights…

Rummana Ferdous Fagun, who is an avid reader of fiction novels, writes a review about A Thousand Night, a mystical story of a young girl whose sacrifice becomes her greatest strength.

a-thousand-nights-e-k-johnston 

E.K Johnston weaves a tale about a girl trapped in a situation which seems impossible to get out of. With time the girl realises that she also has the power to write her own tale, not everything is under others’ control. So she decides to live; day after day building her life in an unknown place, a place far away from her desert life.

It’s an intriguing book to say the least. It has humanity, compassion and mystery. The story is narrated from a first person perspective and the resilience of the girl is almost palpable. The girl remains unnamed throughout the novel and as she is the storyteller we do not need to know it either. At first sight, this novel may seem like a spinoff of ‘Arabian Nights’ but despite being similar to it A Thousand Nights has an essence of its own. The writing style is totally different, more like a storytelling. Every book tells a story obviously, but this book makes you feel like it is telling the fairytale to ‘you’ only. It is beautifully written in a literary rhythm that evokes a sense of oral tale-telling.

The story begins with two young girls going about their daily lives when their king comes to their village. Lo-Melkhiin is a good king but he has a reputation of taking the lives of three hundred girls. He is possessed by a desert spirit (neither djinn nor ifrit is mentioned but readers familiar with Arabic tradition will recognise the mythic being) which feeds upon human creativity and is the reason behind him killing his wives. Because they cannot match his power, they die.

Each chapter has a prologue of sorts which gives an insight to the mystic being’s mind. It uses magic to ignite people’s creativity and uses them for its own amusement. As the kingdom is running smoothly because of Lo-Melkhiin’s rule, the people do not pose any objection. They only make a law that he cannot take more than one girl from one village, he has to move on to the next and can only come back to a village if he has gone through all the other villages.

This time he has come to procure another bride. She knows her sister will be the one to catch his eye, for she is the most beautiful in the whole village. She makes sure that does not happen by diverting his attention to her. She wears the best-woven clothes, puts on glorious attire that makes her stand out, and prepares herself to be taken to her deathbed. Lo-Melkhiin takes the bait and takes her as his wife.

Once inside the castle she anticipates that she will be dead by the end of the night but nothing as such happens. It is her fearlessness that keeps her alive, death does not scare her and that amuses Lo-Melkhiin. Nights go by and she is still alive.

The king is also mesmerised by this exceptional phenomenon, ‘She was not of my kind, yet there was some power to her that was not human, not quite. She did not die, and I wondered if I might at last have found a queen for whom I could set the desert on fire.’

The thing that struck me the most is that there was no overbearing romance. I would have expected that Lo-Melkhiin fell in love with her beauty and there would be some romantic exchange between the two which kept her alive, but it was nothing like that and that is what made the book more admirable. It was not just another love story. It was not only her life at stake; rather, it was everyone else’s too.

The story is more magical and mystical than ordinary. It is not as fast paced as I would like but it is not boring either. There will be things that won’t make sense at the time but after reading the whole story it all falls into place. The ending could have been better though, it did not reach the peak it should have. No matter the ending the story was magnificent to say the least.

The setting is a beautiful desert with camels and tents. During the desert days, she used to live with her family in tents, now the isolated environment of the castle is new to her. Still it’s no less adventurous than her desert life. Every day she ventures into a new part of the residence and soon she finds herself among people who she can socialise with. Though she is far away from her family, her sister is never away from her thoughts. Her sister is grieving for her and makes her a smallgod (a family god) in her village so that everyone remembers her.

The girl, who is now the queen, lives her life in the hope that as long as she is alive the king cannot go out in search of another wife which makes it unlikely for him to get his hands on her sister (because of that law regarding him marrying in the same village). Every night she tells him stories about her sister, about her village. Stories seem to have a life of their own and the more she tells stories the more powerful she becomes.

This novel is a must read for anyone who has a knack for magic and mystery. A sequel to this 2015 masterpiece has also been released in the name of Spindle. If you already read A Thousand Nights and liked it, this one might enchant you too.

 

Rummana Ferdous Fagun is a student of University of Dhaka.

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