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Spanning the fifth century to the sixteenth, from Afghanistan to Spain, this anthology includes translated excerpts from famous works of classical Arabic literature--The Thousand and One Nights, The Qur'an, Isfahani's Book of Songs--as well as unusual pieces that are beautiful but not as well known, such as Ibn Washshiyya on the art of poisons, Kushajim's poem on asparagus, and the anonymous narrative of the "Battle between Kind Mutton and King Honey." Alongside the extracts, Irwin's commentary provides a lively explanatory history of Arabic literature, opening up the texts through fascinating bits of information--such as the fact that saliva occupies a privileged place in the Arabic vocabulary of love, and that the phrase "to ride the wings of the ostrich" means to devote oneself wholeheartedly to something.
Although a rich legacy of Arabic literature exists, it is not nearly as well known as it deserves to be. Night and Horses and the Desert gives the English-speaking reader a unique taste of the sheer vitality and depth of the medieval Arab past.
"[A] treasure-house of a book… unequalled for scholarship and entertainment."—The Independent
"A joy to read.... This book is a journey through 11 centuries of a lost world,with a surprise on almost every page."—Financial Times (London)