Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher

Set in ancient Persia, the novel Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher is a reworking of 1001 Arabian Nights. The original narrative is about Shaharazad, a young woman who narrates a tale to the Sultan every night. Shaharazad intentionally stops her story midway to the climax so that she live another day. She continues doing this for 1001 nights, thus giving the name 1001 Arabian nights/Tales. We acquired these well-known tales as Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves from the original story. I have always been fascinated with the tales and have read several versions of the same. Yet many things seem left unsaid and due to the presence of several translations one cannot arrive at definite answers. I am still to find answers to my questions: When the Sultan decided that Shaharazad could live without delivering any more tales after 1001 nights, what happened? If the tales are broken so that she could live why are they called 1001 Tales in some translations? Why did 1001 seem to be a special number? Where did Shaharazad receive 1001 nights’ worth of stories? Was she an avid reader or did she travel a lot? What would have happened to her when her bag of stories ran out? Would Sultan have killed her or have developed emotions for her?

These and other inquiries are addressed by Shadow Spinner. I came across the book rather unexpectedly. The title seemed quite appealing. I was not prepared to have some of my questions answered. Reading the novel I was pleasantly surprised because Shaharazad is not the main character, as one might anticipate from a retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights. Instead, Marjan, a young servant girl with a disability who becomes enmeshed in the lives of those in the palace, tells our story. She stops to tell a story to a group of small children while on her way with her mistress to sell trinkets in the Sultan’s harem. Shaharazad is her hero, and she values and treasures her voice and storytelling abilities above all else. Before she stepped forward and proposed to the Sultan, no one had thought that having the talent to tell stories could alter one’s course in life. Marjan is telling her story to the little children when Shaharazad’s sister overhears her and brings Marjan to meet Shaharazad since she is starting to run out of stories and is unsure of what to do next.
Marjan consequently moves in with Shaharazad to live in the Sultan’s palace as a serving maid. The palace offers much more than just luxurious furnishings and an abundance of food, though. Every morning when Shaharazad leaves the Sultan’s apartments, even after almost three years of storytelling, there remains a feeling of tension. Shaharazad’s mother likewise despises Shaharazad and wants to see her fail, which makes her dislike everybody who is close to her or tries to assist her.

It is not merely a spin off of the original tale. There are several valuable lessons one can learn from the book. Marjan aspires to become a skilled storyteller. Everywhere she travels, she gathers anecdotes and data that she may use to craft and weave her own stories. Each chapter starts with a section headed “Lessons for Life and Storytelling,” and the lesson included therein would frequently hint at the chapter’s events. At the same time one can also find pearls of wisdom in the section.

One cannot help but love the character of Marjan. It was a pleasure to see Marjan change and advance as a person and a storyteller. It takes the reader a long to discover that Marjan is initially harboring some deeply ingrained resentment and fury. I believe it takes Marjan some time to understand how much resentment she is holding inside. She discovers that she has a strong moral foundation inside of her. She is incredibly devoted and will go to any lengths to safeguard and defend those she loves about.

A fully original story, Shadow Spinner immerses us in a world of palace intrigue, peril, love, betrayal, friendship, self abuse and hope. It fulfills every requirement of a fairy tale. It may seem that their environment is devoid of magic, but their narrative has magic. The magic which tells us and makes us believe that we all possess magical abilities. I recommend this book to everyone who like myself wanted to know about the characters of ARABIAN TALES.


Published by avid reader

Words do not describe a person. I am many things and yet nothing. I am an avid reader, reading her way through the pages of life. Some stories warm the heart and yet others have let me dry. I am a result of my life, and yet my life is part a result of me. Don't try to figure me.

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