on 9 January 2013
I absolutely loved Scorpion Soup. It's a wonderful collection of eighteen nested stories, each one seamlessly leading into the next. In this work, the author's background from a family rich in storytelling tradition shines. It has all the magic of In Arabian Nights, and yet is so much richer. It's a book that I've already recommended to friends, and I will continue to do so. As another reviewer commented, Scorpion Soup is a feast for the mind and for the soul.
I'd be at a loss if I had to choose a favorite of the eighteen tales. They were all memorable, each one a gem in its own way. The magical beast of the capilongo, the mystery of the shrine that held the mysterious box, and The Shop That Sold Truth are all magical. Each story has a message that will stay with you long after you've finished reading. Each one is of a different length: some very short, others several pages long. The book itself is just over 30,000 words, but like The Book of the Book, written by Idries Shah, the content is so rich that the length is perfect.
The content is appropriate for young adults and for adults. This book will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the author's previous work, especially In Arabian Nights. Fans of The Thousand and One Nights and of all kinds of magical stories will also love Scorpion Soup. I cannot wait for the limited edition hardcover to come out in March.
Disclaimer: I know the author personally and work with him through my company, Tribal Publishing, which helps authors build their online platform using social media. I was a reader of this author's books before working with him, and our professional relationship did not affect this honest review.
on 9 January 2013
Tahir Shah has been steeped in traditional storytelling, folklore, legend and creative mythology from an early age and he was brought up in a family gifted in the art and possessing vivid creative imagination. This shines through in the interlinked short stories which comprise "Scorpion Soup: A story in a story", which was inspired by the One Thousand and One Nights.
As each tale is recounted and segues into the next -- as if hinting at and mimicking the world itself emerging and blossoming in a stream of consciousness -- the reader is tantalized by what he has read and drawn into and drawn along by what "moreish" tale might come next. Tales not only of creative imagination, but also -- as is the way of the world -- partly-cautionary tales about its wayward cousin, spurious imagination; at times recurring tales of wondrous destiny and also of less happy fate; tales whose apparently-opposing warp and weft are craftily and necessaily woven together to augment the rich tapestry of life.
As a Westerner, brought up with the literary and technical products of the modern Western world and -- alas -- possessed of an all-too-analytical mind, I would have liked to have seen more clearly delineated dénouement along the way, and I must admit that I felt a certain discomfort and sadness in leaving behind one, not as yet fully resolved, story and moving onto the next. But the Eastern realm, in which these tales are set, dances to a different drum, has its own technical ways of operating and appeals to altogether different and more subtle faculties, and the world is that much richer as a consequence.
I think the whole point is that this is a never-ending tale, with 1,001 possibilities and that it rightly leaves much to the reader to exercise their own imagination so that he or she may fill in the gaps. "What happened to the old witch?", they might ask, and yet another vivid story might be invoked in response, and this can happen because this fairytele framework is inherently open, fertile and liberating, rather than the often closed system, paradigm or prison to which we in the West are, alas, more accustomed.
All in all, then, I heartily recommend "Scorpion Soup" to both the young and the young at heart.
on 13 January 2013
Here is, after many travel stories and a great novel, Tahir Shah's masterful book written in the tradition of teaching stories.
Most readers of the teachings of Sufi mystics would know of his father's oeuvre [...] where such stories have found a place in the West as well as in the East. These teachings have been passed on by means of the vehicle of stories throughout history and have been part of the teachings of mystics, including the parables of Jesus. Wisdom and true knowledge cannot be passed on through logic and reasoning only and need other ways to reach the essence of human beings. Even when such stories are only taken at a superficial level, they leave room for other levels and dimensions of understanding. I think we can safely say that Tahir Shah has taken this road here and has managed to leave us with pointers to truth, beauty and love which make up the kernel of our true being. Speaking from the heart and in tune with the art of storytelling in the Sufi tradition, Shah has followed the flow of the stories in a manner similar to the epic stories of "One Thousand and One Night" and the Sufi teaching stories.
The content of the book deals with human behaviour and the way in which we tend to behave quite contrary to how we consider ourselves to be on a conscious level. In that sense these stories also deal with our Shadow (in Jung's sense of the archetypal shadow we all have). In Sufi parlance one might speak of the Commanding Self we all need to integrate first if we wish to become individuated at all, i.e. understand more of that part of us which is not aware of the greed, power complexes, self-deceit and other characteristics which prevent us to perceive higher levels of reality. Rather than hitting on these aspects of ourselves directly, the stories find their own way to our essence and if digested properly it could increase our self-understanding and with it, a better perception of our fellow human beings and reality.
We will all understand these stories at our own level and depth, but reflected in them we see so many events around us in this world when taking the structure of the story and applying them to different situations in life. In this latter sense it improves our knowledge and bypasses the rational barriers we tend to put up. Shah tells them in such a way that in themselves they are a way towards knowledge which includes the understanding of timing and full effect.
In writing this review there is, of course, the flaw that the stories have been read too fast and this only makes me want to return to them at a slower pace when re-reading them and returning to certain stories at appropriate times.
Masterly told, this is a book of knowledge and an entertaining one at that, relevant to adults and, I would imagine, a gift to children who are told such bedside stories.
André de Koning [...]
on 23 January 2013
I highly recommend reading 'Scorpion Soup: A story in a story' - I particularly loved the tale of 'The Hermit':
'...He came to the conclusion that humans confused the content with the
They would gorge themselves on great plates of inferior food, imagining it to
be delicious because there was simply so much of it.
Or, they would make half wits their leaders, merely because they were pleasing
to the eye, or because their words were spoken in honeyed voices.
And when it came to information, they would champion weighty tomes that
contained almost no real content, while shunning small books that imparted
Wonderful stories to enjoy and re-read.
on 14 February 2013
Coming from Balkans where stories like these are given with mothers' milk I find that they have moulded my character. In fact I have a feeling that stories have plotted my life all together and if I get off course somehow re-reading this opus repairs the damage.
I refer to '1001 Nights' and similar literary heritage from all over the world. It is a mind maze with no end or begining, improbable connections and never obvious endings. Stories like this continue on their own even after they have supposedly concluded.
Not to mention that they hold a key to our's brain back door. Like a parallel universe criss crossing here and there and back again and somewhere along the line magical state is achieved, close to a child's' innocent mind ready to learn and see possibilities in everything.
Interaction is just fabulous and I wish for more of this type of material and hopefully Tahir Shah will continue to feed us from the same story well for years to come.
ps. I remembered this movie and watched it again with pleasure strait after reading [...]
on 12 May 2013
Scorpion Soup is a masterpiece of storytelling. The writing is so simple and pure and each word seemingly so inevitable, that it's as if the book was somehow its own author, and had delivered itself enclosed in a bubble of light and clarity, it's end folded into its beginning. And held within it, the illuminating, magical tales which comprise the author's 'small hymn to the Arabian Nights'. I read the interlocking stories literally entranced, until unwillingly thumped back to earth when the doorbell rang. Then I read them all over again, and once more the bubble of stories took hold. So refreshing -- a mini holiday from the fuss and clutter of the world around us. The book is marvellously cheap on Kindle, and there's also a beautifully designed hardback edition, with gorgeous old maps folded into it -- a lovely container for the shining, graceful and illuminating content.
on 30 January 2013
Anyone who grew up in the Middle East in the mid-1980s or spent time there particularly during the month of Ramadan will remember the TV series "Alf Layla Wa Layla - A Thousand and One Nights" starring Egyptian actress Sherihan and directed by Famhy Abdel Hameed. Watched by millions in the Arab World, it owed its main success to the affinity people felt for the tales of Sheherazad and Shehrayar of 'The One Thousand and One Nights'. Not only was the older generation thrilled to have the tales of their childhood played out vividly on their screens but the show also succeeded in sparking an interest in the younger generation who had assigned these tales to the archives of the past only to find them dusted down and repackaged relevant to their own modern times.
This brings me to storyteller and author Tahir Shah's latest release 'Scorpion Soup'; a work heavily influenced by 'A Thousand and One Nights' as attested by the author in his introduction whereby he writes that this book is 'a small hymn' to the tales that he 'feasted' on since early childhood and have shaped the man he is today. The work is a celebration of stories and storytellers in which ultimately he, Shah himself, emerges supreme.
Shah in 'Scorpion Soup' introduces a network of tales that can only be compared to a set of Russian Dolls, you know the ones where you open up one doll to find another smaller one contained inside it and then that holds a smaller one too and so on until you get to the last and smallest doll in the set. And that is what Shah does in this book. He starts with one story and then this story is the beginning of another and that contains the beginnings of another all the way until the end when we are back at the first story we started with. All the while commanding the reader's full attention engaging the imagination, entertaining, instructing and questioning. Idle readers beware!
The book begins in the hellish prison of Oran where a once-upon-a-time fisherman is now a shackled worn down slave slowly losing all hope of survival. However, we know he is going to survive because he is going to tell us how a tale recounted in a barely audible whisper by another inmate was key to his salvation. And so the reader's journey with Shah begins. From North Africa to Spain, Ethiopia and Egypt, China, Persia and Iceland. Lands of frogs, lands of cats and others ruled by dogs. We have wizened witches and a jinn in an urn at the bottom of the Red Sea. An old man in a cave and the story of a deity or two. The reader meets wise men, foolish men, knights, kings, queens, princes and princesses. A box with a rusty nail and a pendant with tears of a unicorn and still more and more and more.
The stories are meant to entertain but Shah has an ulterior motive. He believes that stories are 'part of the default programming of Man' and as such carry an important role in the shaping of minds and souls. His work is not only a nod to a revival of storytelling, he seems to want a complete resurrection and by the looks of it he might just get his wish.
'Scorpion Soup' is currently available as an e-book but hardback copies will be dispatched starting March 2013. The hardback cover is only available to purchase from Taher Shah's personal website.
on 25 January 2013
An innocent man finds himself incarcerated in a grim prison cell and knows he may never leave it alive. He also knows that, although his body is confined, his spirit is not bounded by time or place, and his imagination is not confined to the physical forms of the familiar world. To survive he tells himself stories, each linked to the next; and, when the last story has been told, he starts again.
Through his stories the prisoner travels to places as distant as Senegal, Iceland and China. But, a storyteller need not remain on the surface of the globe. The stories also take him into a realm of dreams and visions, where he meets a previously unkown creature, half boar, half bird, with the hands of a monkey and the intelligence of a child, who stands upright, smokes a pipe, drinks brandy and has a story to tell, one that takes the prisoner, and us, a little closer to the heart of the world.
On our journey towards the core we travel through Frogland and the Forest of Empty Souls, discover children who can achieve what is impossible to adults, and fools with the audacity to show a king his folly. We witness the vanquishing of a formidable jinn and meet tyrannical mice, and cats, wise and otherwise.
This is an astonishingly original and superbly crafted collection of stories, which not only entertains, but also empowers. I have no doubt that it ranks among the best World Literature has ever produced. Two years after it was first published, it dawned on me that 'Scorpion Soup' is a blueprint - a blueprint for the continuing development of man clothed in the language of a poet-storyteller.
on 10 January 2013
Scorpion Soup: A story in a story
I was wondering how Tahir Shah would follow Travels with Myself and he switched direction and produced Timbuctoo. Now another switch, a book that he himself describes as " a hymn to The Thousand and One Nights". It is much shorter than that classic , around 33,000 words but it is so rich and multi-layered that it feels so much longer. A hymn yes, but a choir of angels,grotesques, hermits, princesses, children and all sorts of magical creatures to sing it.
Here we can see echos of his grandfather Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah, his father Idries Shah, his aunt Amina Shah as well as Sufi masters and tales of wisdom. They are all told with typical Shah energy and understanding, one tale leading to another to provide a deeply satisfying soup.
"Let me tell you a story," he said, "a story that has no end."
"I was rather hoping it had no beginning, too." Jeanette Winterson Lighthousekeeping
Here in Scorpion Soup we get that story with no beginning and no end, round and round it goes to provide what is virtually an instruction manual for living that can be read by young adults too. It works on many levels, probably more than my understanding allows but here there is fantasy, humour, magic, even puzzles, deep understanding of the human condition, wisdom to be absorbed and used and the list goes on just like the stories which echo and sometimes rewrite Sufi tales.
It is a wonderful, in every sense, distillation of much of what Tahir Shah must have learned from his father's storytelling and from many other sources too. With typical generosity it is both beautifully packaged, the container, and full of riches, the contained, and available for next to nothing.
I feel sure this book will be read and re-read by many and it fully deserves to be, indeed it needs to be.
on 9 January 2013
What a book! What a journey! In the tradition of the Arabian Nights and the great storytellers that the Shah surname has crafted, Tahir Shah, once again, surprises me with an invention worthy of the 1001 Nights. Of course, not THAT long but nevertheless as imaginative and full of wisdom and secret hints that show us that always, the connection with other realms is here, now, in everything and everybody. When I was reading such feast for the mind and the soul, I felt that this Soup has all the ingredients that somehow had been present in both his father's work and his grandfather's. In my humble opinion, this is the author's best book yet.