Voices of the Desert
A retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, Nélida Piñon’s Voices of the Desert is concerned not with the tales but with the teller, and the effect on Scheherazade and her family of her decision to sacrifice herself to the ruler of 13th-century Baghdad. Convinced she can entrance the ruler with her tales, Scheherazade becomes one of the Caliph’s wives in an attempt to save other young women of the kingdom. After one night with each, the Caliph executes his wives as an act of vengeance. Scheherazade succeeds in engaging the Caliph with her stories, winning another day of life for herself, and advancing her plan “to make the Caliph suffer whenever she introduces him to her creatures and he becomes a participant in the pain of others.”
Through her adventure tales Scheherazade hopes to instill compassion for his subjects in the ruler of the Caliphate of Baghdad. But the tales take a toll on Scheherazade, as do her nightly loveless couplings with the ruler. Voices of the Desert is a challenging novel devoid of dialogue, detailing Scheherazade’s nights with the Caliph, as seen from the storyteller’s point of view and those of her family members, servant, and the ruler himself. Perhaps because of this, the story has a dense packed quality, but the exceptionally rich language of Voices of the Desert does evoke an exotic place and time long past.