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Pearls on a Branch: Tales from the Arab World Told by Women. Najla Jraissaty Khoury.

February 17, 2018

Pearls on a BranchPearls on a Branch: Tales from the Arab World Told by Women. Najla Jraissaty Khoury. Archipelago Books, 2017.  Translated by Inea Bushnaq.  First published in Arabic in 2014.

4 stars

Delightful Middle Eastern folktales collected, translated and edited by two women from the region.

Najla Jraissaty Khoury was born in Beirut in 1949.  Her early work focused on education of children and adults and on folk tales.  During the Lebanese Civil War she began a traveling theater troupe.  They used puppets to tell folk tales in remote areas without electricity such as air raid shelters, isolated villages and Palestinian refugee camps.  The theatre troupe continued to perform for 20 years with Khoury collecting oral stories for them to perform from the old women in the villages.  In 2014 she chose 100 of the folk tales to publish in Arabic.  Later she worked with Inea Bushnaq, a respected Palestinian folklorist, to select the 30 stories in this book and translated them for publication in English.

Pearls on a Branch begins with an account by Khoury about the collection of the tales.  She explains how in Arab countries, women and men have separate storytelling traditions.  The men gather in public spaces to share stories of public events, while the women tell stories to each other and to their children.  The women’s stories tell of strong women who manage to get what they want by circumventing obstacles.  Poor girls attracting rich and famous men to marry them, for example, is a popular theme.  A separate essay by Bushnaq describes the formal literary patterns in the stories, such as the use of short stories to introduce the major ones.

The folktales found in this book are simply fun to read.  They left me wishing I had children to read them to.  They are similar to folktales from other cultures, but have their own subtle distinctiveness.

I strongly recommend this volume to all readers who enjoy folktales and appreciate how they differ across cultures.

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