…a career in the Foreign Service looking down a very long nose at the Great Unwashed he was aiding the Empire in crushing beneath a British heel.

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The picaresque story of a Persian Tom Jones, written by an Englishman with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Morier is determined to elicit the right kind of laughter from the right kind of reader in 1937 (as you might expect from an English gentleman with the middle name Justinian), to wit

“Tell me, Mirza Ahmak [said the king], by what extraordinary arrangement of Providence does it happen, that we Mussulmans should be the only people on earth who can depend upon our wives, and who can keep them in subjection…”

“…with respect to what your majesty has been pleased to say concerning women, it appears to the meanest of your slaves, that there must be a great affinity between beasts and Europeans, and which accounts for the inferiority of the latter to Mussulmans. Male and female beast herd promiscuously together; so do the Europeans. The female beasts do not hide their faces; neither do the Europeans. They wash not, nor do they pray five times a day; neither do the Europeans. They live in friendship with swine; so do the Europeans; for instead of exterminating the unclean beast, as we do, I hear that every house in Europe has an apartment fitted for its hog. Then as for their women indeed!–What dog seeing its female in the streets doe snot go and make himself agreeable–so doubtless does the European. Wife in those unclean countries must be a word without a meaning, since every man’s wife is every man’s property.”

I don’t know who he is mocking more here, Mussulmen or Europeans. Or women, for that matter. A little of this goes a long way. I picked up this book at an estate sale in Ireland, and in my imagination it was originally bought by a veddy raj type who spent a career in the Foreign Service looking down a very long nose at the Great Unwashed he was aiding the Empire in crushing beneath a British heel. In retirement he read this book at his leisure by his fireside, and every other page snorted out a laugh from beneath a handlebar mustache, in between knocking back shots of only the very best Scotch. For that much entertainment, I thank Mr. Morier. The illustrations are fun, too.

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Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

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