“Astrolabe of the Sea” by Shams Nadir

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“Astrolabe of the Sea” is a collection of 8 stories able to make you fully savor the atmosphere of Shams Nadir between the dark and the fantastic

Astrolabe of the Sea

Shams Nadir (Sun of the antipodes) is the pseudonym that the writer Mohamed Aziza, born in Tunis to a father originally from Andalusia and a mother of Ottoman origin, university professor, rector-chancellor of the Euro-Arab Itinerant University and director of intercultural studies to UNESCO, he chose to publish his literary work. Under his real name he has published numerous academic works on Arab, African and Mediterranean cultures and on intercultural processes.

Astrolabe of the Sea

His literary creation consists of several collections of poems and short stories. His most important work is the trilogy Les Etats de la Mer of which this volume is the first part, unanimously considered by the great representatives of world literature to be one of the greatest in contemporary Arab fiction.

8 stories

Astrolabe of the Sea is a collection of 8 stories that will immerse us fully in the unmistakable atmosphere that Shams Nadir places in each of his novels. The title derives from the pretext used to give life to the novel: an astrolabe so beautiful as to enchant every man and, for this reason, thrown into the water by the king of Shiraz. Even from the depths, however, the magical instrument will continue to enchant, this time using the waves and sailors to tell its stories.

Astrolabe of the Sea

The first story is called “New tale of the bird-storyteller” and tells of a television crew who goes to a village to discover its ancestral myths, remaining entangled in the story of “the bird-storyteller”. The second (my favorite) is called “The mountain of the spider” and tells the deeds of a warrior against the spider god, the latter will be killed, but will find a way to “be reborn”. The third is called “The cracks of time” talks about the foundation of a utopian city by some ex-laborers and its destruction. The fourth bears the name of “Riflessi” and an ode to an Indian “cover-girl” and her sensual dance. The fifth is called “Thar” and tells of a girl from the desert and her revenge for her murdered lover. “the two calligraphers” tells the story of a crippled calligrapher and his evenings between the sensual and the intellectual. “The 366th day of the leap year” is particularly indefinable and (to me) incomprehensible. Finally, “Return to Samarkand” is the story of a knight in search of his own destiny.

An unmistakable style

All these stories are actually narrative tricks to allow Shams Nadir to best tell “things”, be they historical facts, like in “The cracks of time”, which is probably a reworking of the history of Qarmatians, or elements such as sensuality (Reflexes), the cyclical nature of the world (The Spider Mountain) and much more. The unique style of the author plays as always a masterly and decisive work, allowing the reader to immerse himself in a unique and particular atmosphere, halfway between the Maghreb, the Mediterranean and the Middle East of “The Thousand and One Nights”. However, everything is marked by a dark and grotesque air, by magical elements which, unlike many other stories, tend to put the protagonists in difficulty, creating a continuous and incessant tension in the air, as if everything could change quickly and inexplicably.

Astrolabe of the Sea

Not all the stories are unforgettable, but they are all so well written and filled with this unmistakable atmosphere, that they are transformed into real unicum. To cite the preface by Jorge Amado and the introduction by Leopold Sedar Senghor, two absolute stars of the de-colonized world. The only thing to keep in mind: the whole book (introduction, preface, short stories, etc …) is barely 110 pages long, which is why I could not in any way go too far into the individual stories. Shams Nadir is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most unique writers of the Mediterranean and the Arab world, if you are already a fan of him this can be a precious piece in your collection and, if you are not, it could be the key to becoming one.

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