Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin – Ron J. Suresha (Lethe Press)

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In 2011, Ron Suresha published The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin (also from Lethe Press; revised 2013), a collection of more than 365 anecdotes starring the Persian/Turkish wise fool known variously as Mullah (or Sheikh) Nasruddin, Nasreddin Hoca, Djuha, Joha, Hodja, among other aliases.  Now he has collected 257 additional tales, many translated into English for the first time, for a companion volume entitled Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin.  Suresha’s second collection of Mullah Nasruddin lore, however, is more than a mere continuation of the tales found in the first volume, as explained by the subtitle:  Naughty, unexpurgated tales of the beloved wise fool from the Middle and Far East.  Here, then, are the tales that have been expunged from collections of modern translations of Mullah Nasruddin, due to the scatological, ethnic, racial, and/or sexist humor contained therein.  Below are two short examples:

One afternoon, Mullah Nasruddin was sitting peaceably on a riverbank along the Akşehir River, contemplating the infinite glory of God’s creation.  A stranger approached the stream from the other bank.  After looking around a bit, the fellow noticed Nasruddin.  He waved his arms and shouted, “Hey there, Mullah!  Excuse me—please tell me, how do I get across the river?”  Without looking up, Nasruddin shouted back, “You are across!” (“Two Sides of a River,” page 24)

One very hot day at the chai shop, Mullah and the wags were discussing distant lands.  Faik declared, “There are some places where it is so hot that the most people go around completely naked.”  Nasruddin asked, “Without clothes, how in the world do they tell the women from the men?” (“Hot Coutoure,” page 40)

Admittedly, these two short examples are not particularly racy; still, they demonstrate one of the Mullah’s ubiquitous characteristics, namely, his unique perspective, which allows him to view the world differently than his contemporaries.  For this reason his stories are so popular:  through looking at the world differently one may attain some measure of wisdom.  In Suresha’s own words:  “…by opening the listener’s heart with laughter, the tales create a space for wisdom to enter.

Suresha organizes his second collection into seven parts, as he did his first collection (traditionally, Mullah stories are recited in groups of seven).  His earlier collection was organized roughly chronologically, from Nasruddin as child to venerable adult, whereas each section here is grouped thematically:  Mullah’s Amazing Adventures; The Young Nasruddin; Extra Marital Affairs; Meet the Nasruddins; Donkey Tales & Animal Crackers; Adventures around the Village; and Travels with the Mullah.  Among the taboo themes within these short vignettes are incest (the adolescent Nasruddin trying to bed his beautiful stepmother), extra-marital sex (as practiced by both Nasruddin and his wife Fatima), and bestiality (apparently Nasruddin’s “beloved donkey” Karakacan is exactly that).  However, very few deal with overt homosexuality or bisexuality.  Suresha admits in his introduction that these stories were the most difficult for him to find; indeed, there are far more stories about Nasruddin and his “beloved donkey.”

Naturally, this collection will appeal to any reader who appreciates a good fart joke or merkin story, but it will also prove valuable to students of folklore and/or Islamic culture; storytellers; and seekers of wisdom.  To this end, Suresha includes a bibliographical list of his sources, and a glossary of terms that might be unknown to the general reader, for those who might be inspired to follow the Mullah Nasruddin, perched sitting backwards upon his beloved donkey.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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