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4.0 out of 5 stars Prayer Cushions of the Flesh by Robert Irwin,
This review is from: Prayer-Cushions of the Flesh (Paperback)
Robert Irwin, British historian and scholar of Medieval and Arabic History
and author of several novels and works of non-fiction, uses his academic
expertise to craft an exotic, erotic fantasy about life in the Harem of the
Sultan of the Turkish Ottoman Empire during a vaguely defined Imperial era.
The story centers on the youthful prince Orkhan who suddenly, in the
beginning of the tale, gets released from a lifetime kept confined in the
Cage of the Imperial Harem. He finds himself acclaimed as the new Sultan by
the Harem's concubines, the eunuchs and the enigmatic, oddly sinister dwarf
vizier. Naive yet passionate and utterly ignorant of the outside world,
Orkhan must learn to survive the intrigues and evil plots that flourish
amidst the boredom and isolation of palace life.
The book follows the protagonist's maturation from his delusions that he
rules the women in the Harem when, in truth, he gets manipulated into a
number of perverse relationships and sexual adventures stage-managed by
Harem ringleaders, devotees of the "Prayer Cushion Movement". The adherents
believe that extreme sensual sensations represent communication with the
divine. At first Orkhan eagerly participates in the escapades orchestrated
by odalisques Anadil, Mihrimah and Roxelana who introduce him to all manner
of sexual practices involving every orifice of the body and including
bondage and discipline, aphrodisiac substances, dildoes, etc. Gradually
Orkhan senses a sinister undertone to the proceedings while paradoxically
being drawn to the presence of the matronly washerwoman for the Harem
inhabitants, Perizade. Her fondness for the prince, while also expressed
physically (she practices the "art" of phallomancy---divination by examining
the shape and color of the penis!), contains a motherly warmth otherwise
lacking in the younger women.
The concubines' lures of temptation, seduction, magical spells and even
storytelling nearly succeed in convincing the Sultan-in-name-only, Orkhan,
to participate in a climactic event intended to be at once ecstatic and
fatal---the possible fate of all his predecessors. How Orkhan gradually
learns to enjoy the delights of the flesh without being overwhelmed and how
he takes his fate into his own hands as it were and Perizade's surprising
role in the resolution culminates in a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to
this fascinating exercise in Orientalism.
Clearly inspired by Arabian Nights tales in their original unexpurgated
form, Robert Irwin cleverly employs their trappings to tell a darkly erotic
fable about the perversion of love and beauty when these uplifting aspects
of human existence become poisoned in a hothouse atmosphere (of an Imperial
Harem, specifically), where one gender is given absolute power over another.
The path to discovery however, in 'Prayer Cushions of the Flesh', lies
strewn with all manner of variations on a theme as one reads about sex: with
men (Orkhan enjoyed incestuous experimentation with his brothers before he
was liberated from the Cage); women; fairies; alligators(!); eunuchs;
transvestites; masochists; dominatrixes---all this serving to appall,
delight, surprise and enthrall by turns. 'Prayer Cushions of the Flesh'
effectively celebrates life in all its strange variety even as it examines
with macabre irony, the erotics of death. Irwin's exercise in fevered
imaginings can be recommended to daring mature readers willing to explore
the bizarre by-ways of fantasy.
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Prayer-Cushions of the Flesh by Robert Irwin (Paperback - 11 Sept. 1997)