The Book of Strangers: Medieval Arabic Graffiti on the Theme of Nostalgia

A tenth-century Iraqi longing for the happy days of the past took to collecting verse graffiti left behind by travelers and others who did not feel at home where they were in order to console himself. Some of the graffiti he had come across himself; others he had only heard about or read in books, and many of them clearly belong in the realm of fiction. But all voiced sentiments similar to his own. The result of his pastime was a little book, at once sad and irreverent, that conjures up his nostalgic mood in a manner not attempted before or since in Arabic literature, rich in nostalgic poetry though it is.

The Book of Strangers offers a translation of this work and a discussion of both its authorship, traditionally credited to the famous anthologist Abu ‘l Faraj al-Isfahani, and its cultural context. The book is intended for specialists and lay readers alike. The translation is accompanied by a commentary identifying people, places, and other matters; and though the discussion of the author and his cultural context is necessarily more technical, specialist knowledge is not taken for granted.

 


Patricia Crone (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton) is the author of Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam and other books.

Shmuel Moreh (Hebrew University) is one of the world’s leading experts on Arab literature. He has also edited¬†Napoleon in Egypt: Al-Jabarti’s Chronicle of the French Occupation of 1708¬†(available from Markus Wiener).