Title: One Thousand and One Days
Author: Renee Frey
Publisher: Authors 4 Authors Publishing
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
The Prologue is the 1001st day since the wedding and Sutaita, the daughter of the Chief Vizier to Sultan Shahryar, expects to be killed as she has run out of stories.
The story begins on the day when Ja’far, Chief Vizier, runs out of maidens. Only his two daughters, Sutaita and Dunyazaade remain. He must either offer them in marriage to the Sultan, or be executed himself.
Every night Sutaita begins to spin a yarn, and every morning she ends the story with the ultimate cliffhanger, one that allows her one more day of life so she can take the story to its conclusion. It seems like a great solution but it can’t last forever. Before long, lack of sleep begins to take a toll on the Sultan and he figures out his wife’s tactics.
Sutaita does not know that it is the infidelity of the Sultan’s first wife that has doomed all his wives to death the morning after the wedding. But she is determined to find the truth behind the edict that every wife of the Sultan be executed the morning after the wedding. With the sword hanging over her head, she lives from day to day, never sure which day will be her last.
As time goes, Shahryar feels compelled to tell Sutaita stories of his own. True stories, but told like fiction, to heighten certain facts and withhold others.
The story is written in the first person POV of Sutaita and the Sultan on different days after the wedding. With each account, we move ahead in time until the 1001st day. The descriptions are beautiful; the local colour and culture evident.
Sutaita is drawn to learning and wisdom and subjects like philosophy and mathematics. She goes to her wedding-funeral, armed with stories.
With all the restrictions, one imagines of the time and the culture, it is heartening to read about the affection and love in Sutaita’s family.
The book reiterates the power of stories to heal, to entrance, to teach. The most succulent fruit I know of… the ending of a story. At one point, Shahryar says, No one in their right mind would try to change someone by telling stories. but that’s exactly what literature sets out to do. Sutaita’s experience proves a truth that every book lover knows, that stories can save you.
We are also reminded of the connectedness of stories, when Sutaita admits her familiarity with Greek tragedies, Egyptian myths and Indian epics.
Unlike the original collection of stories known as the One thousand and one nights tales, which brings us the stories but tells us nothing about the emotions of the woman who recounted them, Renee fills in those blanks.
While I was heartened by the story element of the book, at some point, my interest began to wane. The fact that there was no real antagonist made the danger tepid. There is no antagonist here, except the demons that Shahryar carries within his breast.
The constant thrust and parry between what Sutaita felt and believed and what the Sultan did felt exhausting to read. As the Sultan continues to withhold secrets, life between the couple becomes a complicated and intricate dance where we’re both so focused on not stepping on each other’s toes that we’ve stopped seeing each other. A beautiful line but unable to lift the tedium of the narrative.
Also, the use of the word, books, felt out of place. Unless the author meant a bound volume. I was also put off by a conversation in the last chapter when Sutaita, unable to believe what the Sultan has just said, says, “Come again.” This is the kind of colloquialism that stands out for all the wrong reasons, particularly in a book set in ancient Egypt.
As a child, I used to wonder if they had any other conversations at all, or if it was just story after story, night after night for a thousand and one nights. Thank you, Renee. This was a story I'd forgotten I wanted.