Book Review and Giveaway: Shahrazad’s Gift by Gretchen McCullough

SHAHRAZAD’S GIFT
by
Gretchen McCullough
Contemporary Fiction / Linked Short Stories / Humor
Publisher: Cune Press
Date of Publication: February 20, 2024
Number of Pages: 198 pages
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Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo—magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough’s Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.
These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.
Review Header
Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of slice-of-life short stories inspired by author Gretchen McCullough’s time spent in Cairo. There’s some overlap among the stories, and we also get to meet Gary and Kharalombos, protagonists of McCullough’s book Confessions of a Knight Errant, before the events of that book unfold. (You can read my review of Confessions of a Knight Errant here.)
The stories here aren’t ones that will make headlines (well, not most of them). Rather, they’re glimpses into the ordinary workings of mostly ordinary folks. We see a costume designer named Queenie trying her best to meet a client’s expectations. A Japanese woman named Keiko, in Cairo to learn Egyptian and teach it to businessmen back home, convinced she’s hearing noises from the supposedly empty flat above hers. Joe is terminally ill and musing on his life as the end draws near. Hoda is a housewife trapped in a marriage of disillusionment, drawn outside her everyday doldrums by her obsession with her British neighbor’s sexual shenanigans.

Through these stories, McCullough paints a portrait that highlights similarities between folks the world over. We all struggle. We all have things happen that just leave us shaking our heads. We all encounter people and make choices we later regret. She weaves a thread of common humanity, giving us people we might like, might empathize with, or might not, and in them we catch glimpses of ourselves.

So if you like your stories a little offbeat, your characters a little peculiar, pick up Shahrazad’s Gift. These stories sparkle like jewels in a necklace and will appeal to anyone who’s a student of human nature. And if you’re familiar with Confessions of a Knight Errant and want to get to know Gary and Kharalombos before they meet up, you’ll really enjoy this book! That was a lovely, unexpected bonus.


Keep on scrolling for the giveaway!

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey, and Japan. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and was awarded a teaching Fulbright to Syria from 1997-1999. Her stories, essays and reviews have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, Story South, Guernica, The Common, The Millions, and the LA Review of Books. Translations in English and Arabic have been published in: Nizwa, Banipal, Brooklyn Rail in Translation, World Literature Today and Washington Square Review with Mohamed Metwalli. Her bi-lingual book of short stories in English and Arabic, Three Stories From Cairo, translated with Mohamed Metwalli, was published in July 2011 by AFAQ Publishing House, Cairo. A collection of short stories about expatriate life in Cairo, Shahrazad’s Tooth, was also published by AFAQ in 2013. Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
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THREE WINNERS:
Two winners receive paperbacks.
One winner receives the eBook of Shahrazad’s Gift.

(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 4/12/24)

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One Response to Book Review and Giveaway: Shahrazad’s Gift by Gretchen McCullough

  1. “These stories sparkle like jewels in a necklace and will appeal to anyone who’s a student of human nature.” BEST PULL QUOTE EVER! I can’t wait to read this collection. Thanks for sharing your fabulous review.

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