A renowned storyteller loses his voice, and his seven friends must each tell him a story to bring it back. This is a colorful, Arabian Nights sort of tale, set in 1959 Syria, where an oppressive government occasionally infringes on the world of the eight old men who spend every evening together and rally around to bring back Salim’s voice. The characters’ stories have a fairytale quality, even when they claim to be telling stories from their own pasts, and are enjoyable and imaginative.
This isn’t a book I loved or one I expect to prove memorable. It doesn’t have much plot in the frame story, and there’s more insight into the human condition generally than into any of its specific characters. But it is a pleasant read, and a strong and easily readable translation (it is perhaps more easily translated to English than most Middle Eastern literature; Schami moved to Germany as a young man and originally wrote this one in German). Worth a read for lovers of fairytales or Middle Eastern fiction.