Archive for January 8th, 2017


by Sam Juliano

Rick Blaine:   I came to Casablanca for the waters.

Captain Renault:  The waters?  What waters?  We’re in the desert.

Rick Blaine:  I was misinformed.

Captain Renault’s comeback has always provoked belly laughter, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Morocco and North Africa is cognizant that the Sahara desert is roughly as old as some of the ice ages, circa two and a half million years ago.  Over thousands of miles of scorching sand the most valuable substance was that which in some regions of this merciless expanse is something often scarcer than gold dust.  Ironically this essential commodity covers roughly seventy-one per cent of the Earth’s surface.  But the sun and the sweltering heat has always made the occasional oasis and fountains as the sole panacea for those daring to travel away from their comfort zone.  The Great Desert nearly claimed the life of Moses during Biblical times, and would have if not for some fortuitous human intervention.  The fear of the desert, or specifically getting caught too far from the home base without a water supply is comparable to one being dragged to a watery demise by an aggressive ocean undertow.  Of course the desert offers nothing more than dangerous travels through scorched, unforgiving terrain.  In David Lean’s epic 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, a cinematic masterpiece based on the life of T.H. Lawrence, Prince Feisal declared: “No Arab loves the desert.  We love water and green trees.  There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.”

The approximate time period of Evan Turk’s The Storyteller is shortly after Islam swept through North Africa not long after the death of Mohammad in 632.  Of course the framing story that ultimately encircles this epic, audacious and emotionally enthralling work is the present time.  This final deceit enables Turk to properly bookend a story within a story so that readers can look back alongside the modern day storyteller who entertains a contemporary throng with a captivating, multitudinous tale while at the same time paying homage to a great tradition that once defined thirst as both a need for the world’s most essential life-giving element and the life-affirming storytelling practice that holds disaster at bay. It wouldn’t appear to be unreasonable to tag the events in The Storyteller to the Islamic Golden Age, which ran from the 8th to the 13th century.  Furthermore The Arabian Nights -a group of stories compiled over centuries by authors, translators and scholars, from which “Aladdin” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” attained notable popularity after their inclusion by Europeans hundreds of years later offered up the most excessive case of storytelling preponderance in the history of literature, the tale of the Sultana Scheherazade, who averted a death edict by a sultan who vowed to get even for an act of faithlessness by his one-time wife.  He them proceeded to marry a new virgin each day and then to behead them, until he had reached a total of one-thousand dispatched in that manner.  But Scheherazade, gifted with a storytelling talent, continued to hold her demise in check, by keeping the sultan captivated 1,001 nights with exciting new stories.  When she had run out of them the King still spared her, having long since fallen in love with her.  He  made her his Queen.  The great Russian classical composer Rimsky-Korsakov of course brought a breathtaking musical interpretation to this time-worn material in what was to become his most beloved composition. (more…)

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