Syrian poet Samir Tahhan collected folktales from old men sitting outside their houses in Aleppo, drinking tea. Afraid these stories would disappear with the passing of this generation, Tahhan also went to halls and events to hear professional storytellers and record their performances. Anthropologist Andrea Rugh helped translate the resulting two volumes of stories from the original Arabic and wrote the informative introduction to this one-volume collection.
Some of the tales appeared in rhyming verse in Arabic and some were based on events that are said to have actually taken place in Aleppo. Rugh explains the concepts of the most popular types of Syrian story structures: the gissa, the hikaya, and the hudutha. With two of the poems, the Arabic and the English are shown side by side in order to demonstrate the internal poetic structures of the original rhymes.
With their emphasis on morality and social values, the tales will be familiar to Western audiences. Another value for the reader is finding the accepted social values and behaviors that Arab adults try to inculcate in their younger generation, often through complex characterizations. Teasing out these meanings gives the reader an appreciation for the act of translation and hints of the power of the Arabic language in prose and poetry.
Professional illustrator Douglas Rugh has provided the book's black-and-white prints based on the stories and his experiences as a child growing up in the Middle East. 20 b&w illus.