Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Pearls On A Branch by Najla Jraissaty Khoury

Pearls On A Branch: Oral Tales collected by Najla Jraissaty Khoury
First published in Arabic as Hikayat wa hikayat by Dar al adab in Lebanon in 2014. English translation by Inea Bushnaq published by Archipelago Press today, the 6th March 2018.

Where to buy this book:

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A collection of 30 traditional Syrian and Lebanese folktales infused with new life by Lebanese women, collected by Najla Khoury.

While civil war raged in Lebanon, Najla Khoury traveled with a theater troupe, putting on shows in marginal areas where electricity was a luxury, in air raid shelters, Palestinian refugee camps, and isolated villages. Their plays were largely based on oral tales, and she combed the country in search of stories. Many years later, she chose one hundred stories from among the most popular and published them in Arabic in 2014, exactly as she received them, from the mouths of the storytellers who told them as they had heard them when they were children from their parents and grandparents. Out of the hundred stories published in Arabic, Inea Bushnaq and Najla Khoury chose thirty for this book.

The story of how the arabic original of this book came to exist is as interesting as the tales it contains. By listening to many women across Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, Khoury endeavoured to record their traditional folktales and how they were told, thereby preserving an important part of these women's lives. Stories are told differently when they are spoken and when they are written so I was glad that Khoury transcribed the words pretty much verbatim. That atmosphere has been maintained in Bushnaq's translation too so, although in this English language edition we only have thirty of the story, we still have the introductory 'mattress' scene setting and the age-old turns of phrase. I appreciated the detailed introduction which explains the gathering and cultural importance of these tales.

Arabic folktales are both very similar and very different to the fairytales I remember reading and being told as a child. I recognised glimpses of the Snow White story here and of Rapunzel before they veered away. There aren't the moral endings of Western fairytales, but these stories still contain important guidance for adult life. For girls especially patience and endurance are valued qualities, preternatural beauty is of course essential and marrying into royalty is highly recommended - although not always with an instant Happily Ever After. It was very interesting to be given this opportunity to glimpse into such an essential but often overlooked aspect of Arabic life.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Najla Jraissaty Khoury / Fairytales / Books from Lebanon


  1. This sounds like my kind of thing! I love fairy tale collections from all around the world!

    1. Pearls On A Branch would be perfect for you then :-)

  2. This book sounds really lovely! I really enjoy reading different cultures' folk tales :-) Russian tales are my favourites!

    1. I love seeing how similar stories are interpreted across the different cultures