PEARLS ON A BRANCH: ORAL TALES, BY NAJLA JRAISSATY KHOURY, TRANSLATED BY INEA BUSHNAQ
In Pearls on a Branch: Oral Tales, Najla Jraissaty Khoury collects thirty folktales from over two decades of travels in Lebanon. Here she’s compiled the stories shared among women that are filled with ghouls, princes, cunning young girls, and animals that talk. Frequently, fathers and husbands are outsmarted by daughters and wives, and peasant girls catch the eyes of princes and charm them into royal marriages. As with most folktales, these stories often seek to teach a lesson, but this lesson is not always what western readers expect. In “Abu Ali the Fox,” Abu Ali decides he will no longer eat his fellow animals, leading his neighbors—Hen, Rooster, and Partridge on a pilgrimage to Mecca. On the way he gets hungry and devours the first two, but Partridge escapes, believing that Abu Ali could never change his ways.
Khoury tells us that her tales are published “exactly as I received them from the mouths of the storytellers, who told them as they had heard them from their parents and grandparents.” These verbatim renderings, translated from Arabic by Inea Bushnaq, allow the reader to hear the voice of the teller, instilling each tale with multi-generational echoes of meaning. These stories are charming and subversive, often hilarious, but always sincere in their telling.