When I was twelve, I had so much more time for reading than I do now.
I suppose that goes without saying, doesn’t it? No job, no books waiting to be written, no insurance bills, no house to clean or meals to cook. Now my evenings are spent frantically making freezer meals and quiche for my way-too-early mornings when I must eat but am too groggy to cook.
Adulthood is so much fun.
Back in the day, when I had more time to read and browsed through all the shelves I could find to discover new things to read, I came across several stories set in ancient Persia.
They fascinated me. The depth of culture, the exotic surroundings, and the clever, sometimes magical characters all captured my heart and sparked my imagination. They were brilliant, detailed stories with characters that made me want to be braver, to be smarter, and possibly to live in ancient Persia where I could wear beautiful silky trousers and go barefoot on tiled floors and whisper secrets to a dark Arabian night.
One of these magical stories was Shadow Spinner, by Susan Fletcher. I really don’t understand why this book isn’t more popular than it is. I’ve never found it in a library, and only just managed to snag a secondhand copy in a thrift store. When I found it, I was whisked right back to twelve years old again, reading this brilliant book with the starry-eyed wonder of a child.
The story is a retelling of the Arabian tale, A Thousand and One Nights. It’s a story of deception, compassion, danger, and healing. And in the Shadow Spinner, all of it is woven around one girl.
Marjan is a poor peasant girl, a cripple with a painful past and a talent for storytelling. She is brought to the harem of the Sultan Shahryar by Shahrazad, a woman whose life hangs by a single thread.
The thread of a story.
Shahrazad is the wife of the Sultan, a wife he took during the years when he was killing a new wife every night. The night he married her, she told him a story, but didn’t finish it. He let her live to finish the story, and so her life continues on—for a thousand and one nights, with a thousand and one stories.
By the time Marjan appears, Shahrazad is running out of stories. Marjan is able to tell her a story that she has not heard before, an impressive feat, but the story is not finished when Marjan reaches the last words, and the rush to find the rest of it puts them both in grave danger.
This story is one of the most beautiful Arabian tales that I have ever come across. The gorgeous, detailed descriptions of life in the harem, the suspense that at times had me holding my breath, the characters that made me laugh and cry and love them, combined to create a tale that is truly a treasure. The strength and compassion of Shahrazad, the ingenuity of her continued existence, and the depth of the stories she wove together to teach and bring healing to a man who’d been deeply scarred took my breath away. I would highly, highly recommend this book for any young girl looking for a heroine to model herself after.
“I have told him stories of good women and bad women, strong women and weak women, shy women and bold women, stupid women and wise women, honest women and women who betray. I’m hoping that, by living inside their skins while he hears their stories, he’ll understand over time that women are not all this way or that way. I’m hoping he’ll look at women as he does at men—that you must judge each of us on her own merits, and not condemn us or exalt us only because we belong to a particular sex.”