Saturday, January 05, 2008

On The Adventures of Amir Hamza

Let us not forget its glorious subtitle: Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction (which has to be the very best subtitle ever!).

From The Washington Post:

The Adventures of Amir Hamza represents a marvelous dovetailing of fantasy, history and religion. This book demonstrates the ways that colorful storytelling can be an important part of both religious texts and adventure yarns, and the way a charismatic figure may become something very like public property, capturing the popular imagination and giving storytellers a vessel for their ideas.


From The New York Times:

Even in translation, "The Adventures of Amir Hamza" is a wonder and a revelation — a classic of epic literature in an interpretation so fluent that it is a pleasure to sit down and lose oneself in it. The story line itself is endlessly diverting and inventive, and the prose of the translation is beautifully rendered.

Moreover, the book gives a unique insight into a lost Indo-Islamic courtly world. For although "The Adventures of Amir Hamza" was originally a Persian production set in the Middle East, the Urdu version shows how far the story was reimagined into an Indian context in the course of many years of subcontinental retelling. Though the original Mesopotamian place names survive, the world depicted is not that of early Islamic Iraq, but of 18th-century late Mughal India, with its love of gardens, its obsession with poetic wordplay and its extreme refinement in food, dress and manners. Many of the characters have Hindi names; they make oaths like "as Ram is my witness"; and they ride on elephants with jeweled howdahs. To read "The Adventures of Amir Hamza" is to come as close as is now possible to the world of the Mughal campfire — those night gatherings of soldiers, sufis, musicians and hangers-on that one sees illustrated in Mughal miniatures, a storyteller beginning his tale in a clearing of a forest as the embers of the blaze glow red and the eager faces crowd around.


First chapter.

See also the translator's blog.

I received a copy some weeks ago, but it wasn't till a few days ago that I decided to commit to it, breaking in the new year with this new book.

I'm on page 53 and I've yet to meet Amir Hamza, but every page thus far has been laden with riches. Truly marvelous.
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