Syrian Folktales
by Muna Imady
MSI Press

"I feel it is important to record these tales, traditions, peddlers' chants and recipes before they are completely forgotten."

In the ancient Arab tradition, nightfall was the time for telling stories of make-believe. In Syrian Folktales, author Muna Imady reflects on the fascinating stories remembered from her childhood. Growing up in Damascus with tales passed down by her Tete (Grandma), Imady became intrigued with Syria's deep-rooted oral traditions. As a republic comprised of 14 governorates, each with its own unique folkloric heritage, Imady takes advantage of the opportunity to provide an interesting cross-section of stories, sayings, riddles, and culinary dishes representing each individual region. Each province is chaptered like a mini-travelogue, offering a short history and distinguishing facts about an area.

Whether it be knowledge of Idlib, famous for its mineral water baths, Tartus known for archeological monuments, or Latakia recognized in discovery of the world's oldest alphabet, the information is succinct. Stories in highlight of the broad Syrian landscape include farmers and kings, talking animals, and magic ghouleh (witch) spells. Moral tales like "The Raven and the Fox," shed light on the golden rule, while "The Woodcutter and the Lion" speaks of the value of friendship. From lush, fertile Rural Damascus, the takeaway of "The Wicked Stepmother" reveals a classic Cinderella tale, with the elusive glass slipper replaced by a golden ring.

Recipes native to the various regions of Syria, provide another layer of texture to this country's old world heritage. Many feature traditional Middle Eastern ingredients and flavors like burghol (cracked wheat), lamb, and chick peas, and the fragrant spices of coriander, cinnamon, and cardamom. Adventurous gastronomes might consider the province of Hasakeh with its unusual clambake style version of camel, cooked on a hot bed of embers beneath the desert sand.

This is an enlightening collection, created in an effort to capture the heart of Middle Eastern Folkloric traditions. Imady's work is a charming preservation.

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