The Book of Travels: Vols, 1 & 2
By Hanna Diyab. Ed. Johannes Stephan. Trans. Elias Muhanna.
NYU Press, 2021.
Reviewed by Robert W. Lebling on May 1, 2022
This autobiographical work, in Arabic and English for the first time, tells the story of a Syrian interpreter who accompanies a French antiquarian/naturalist, Paul Lucas, on a journey from Aleppo in 1706 to Paris, and ultimately to the royal court of Versailles, in 1708. The interpreter, a Maronite from Aleppo, happens to have recited the unforgettable tales of “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” for Antoine Galland’s translation of the Thousand and One Nights. Like the Nights, this travelog is structured as a frame narrative, containing some 40 tales, covering diverse subjects, from history to religion, from crime to horror. It presents experiences from a distance, as the writer, in his 70s, speaks of his adventures more than a half century earlier: the legends of the Philosopher’s Stone and the Water of Life, and even modern European wonders like the Astronomical Clock in Lyon.