Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Scorpion Soup by Tahir Shah: Book review

Scorpion Soup: Dancing to a different drum

Tahir Shah has been steeped in traditional storytelling, folklore, legend and creative mythology from an early age and he was brought up in a family gifted in the art and possessing vivid creative imagination. This shines through in the interlinked short stories which comprise Scorpion Soup: A story in a story, which was inspired by the One Thousand and One Nights.

As each tale is recounted and segues into the next -- as if hinting at and mimicking the world itself emerging and blossoming in a stream of consciousness -- the reader is tantalized by what he has read and drawn into and drawn along by what "moreish" tale might come next. Tales not only of creative imagination, but also -- as is the way of the world -- partly-cautionary tales about its wayward cousin, spurious imagination; at times recurring tales of wondrous destiny and also of less happy fate; tales whose apparently-opposing warp and weft are craftily and necessaily woven together to augment the rich tapestry of life.

As a Westerner, brought up with the literary and technical products of the modern Western world and -- alas -- possessed of an all-too-analytical mind, I would have liked to have seen more clearly delineated dénouement along the way, and I must admit that I felt a certain discomfort and sadness in leaving behind one, not as yet fully resolved, story and moving onto the next. But the Eastern realm, in which these tales are set, dances to a different drum, has its own technical ways of operating and appeals to altogether different and more subtle faculties, and the world is that much richer as a consequence.

I think the whole point is that this is a never-ending tale, with 1,001 possibilities and that it rightly leaves much to the reader to exercise their own imagination so that he or she may fill in the gaps. "What happened to the old witch?", they might ask, and yet another vivid story might be invoked in response, and this can happen because this fairytale framework is inherently open, fertile and liberating, rather than the often closed system, paradigm or prison to which we in the West are, alas, more accustomed.

All in all, then, I heartily recommend Scorpion Soup to both the young and the young at heart.

The Kindle version of the 33,000 word Scorpion Soup has just been published at Amazon US and UK. Other e-book formats will be available shortly, and a limited edition hardback will be out by the end of March 2013.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

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