….. of Scorpion Soup ?
It’s something I recommend highly, for that is the title of the latest offering from Tahir Shah. And, just as he did last year with Timbuctoo, he’s gone down the private publishing route, focussing on high quality, and producing a work of art fit for the words within.
Not content with just writing beautiful books, or perhaps more likely discontent with publishing deals, Tahir Shah has again done his own thing. And the result is a masterpiece. His latest book has the look and feel of a craftsman at work; and then you read it.
He has gone back to his roots, to stories at the knee of his late father, Idries Shah, and his grandfather. In a number of previous works, notably The Caliph’s House and In Arabian Nights, which follow his move to the Casablancan shanty town and the renovation of a run-down house, he takes us back to the stories told in Moroccan market-places.
The root of it all is The Thousand and One Nights, or the Arabian Nights as it may have been known in our own childhood. These are stories, yarns, with twists and turns. And in bringing a small collection together he gives us, as he says, … a small hymn to the Thousand and One Nights…. and to the stories that have made me who I am.
The finished work is a joy to hold, bound in the traditional way, with stitching, and a smooth feel to the paper that you just don’t get with a download. But he’s gone further, for Scorpion Soup is peppered with maps; maps that fold out, coloured maps of places of old, tied in with the stories.
And being a master teller of tales, he opens with a narrative of a bookbinder, which leads into the one about the story-teller. Each story leads seemlessly into the next; and each one leaves a lingering warm glow.
I’ve spoken of Tahir Shah and his works before, but this is a man at the top of his game. He knows his audience, and in publishing in limited editions which are only available from the author, at least intially, he satsisfies the need of the collector of books as well. Self-publishing and downloading may be the way forward for the first-time author, but I think the man has a niche here, and I hope it is one he develops further.
This latest one is not the mighty tome that was Timbuctoo last year. It sits comfortably in the hand, ideal for taking along for a dip between the covers whilst The Urchins have a swimming lesson. Through social networking you can follow the book from concept, to first orders; see the arrival of the first copies in the author’s hands, and then the consignment, shipping, arrival in the country; until finally you can place it on The Bedisde Table.
If you are new to Shah’s works I’d dip into The Sorceror’s Apprentice, and The Caliph’s House; and I’ll be surprised if you do not go on to read them all. The back catalogue is being re-published. This latest one is about story-telling, and Shah is a master of that. Did I ever tell you he has a Scots granny?
Go on, get yourself a space in the circle, squat down in the Djemaa el Fna, unroll your magic carpet, fill your cup from the water-seller’s goatskin, close your eyes, and listen. Brilliant book, or physical book as it seems they may now be known.