Strobing Limelight interviews Ron J. Suresha on Extraordinary Adventures
h/t to Gavin Atlas
Ron J. Suresha is an award-winning author and editor of more than a dozen books, most recently, EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF MULLAH NASRUDDIN: NAUGHTY, UNEXPURGATED TALES OF THE BELOVED WISE FOOL FROM THE MIDDLE AND FAR EAST, published by Lethe Press. The book is the much-anticipated sequel to Suresha’s first, award-winning collection of Turkish folk tales. He lives in central-western Connecticut. Mr. Suresha, please tell us more.
Ron J. Suresha: Thanks for asking. Extraordinary Adventures is a collection of more than 250 hilarious and completely authentic stories about the famous wise fool, Mullah Nasruddin. For more than eight centuries, this beloved character has been known in many countries by various names, including Afanti, Nastratin, Djuha, Giufá, Sheikh Nasruddin, Abu Nuwas, and, in Turkey, which claims him as a native, he is known as Nasreddin Hoca.
LS: How did you come to be acquainted with Mullah Nasruddin?
RJS: My mother had told me as a child some of the pithier jokes, usually to point out some aspect of my contrary behavior: “Why do you always answer a question with a question?” “Do I?” Fast forward to the 1980s, when for more than eight years I lived in a yoga ashram, and heard many more Nasruddin stories, which my teachers and fellow students included in daily lectures and discussions on spiritual life.
LS: You’re not Turkish, so why did you decide to do a retelling of Nasruddin stories?
RJS: Sufi writer Idries Shah had published several volumes of stories in the 1960s, but there had not been a comprehensive, modern retelling in English of the most popular stories since. The first book, The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin, published by Lethe Press in 2011, has more than 365 stories, and was honored with an Anne Izard Storyteller’s Choice Award and a Storytelling World Honor.
LS: Congratulations. So, does the new book present more of the same or something different?
RJS: Yes. I mean, both! Although the first book included some ribald jokes, most were written for a general readership. Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin has all the bawdy material excluded from the first work, plus many additional non-bawdy stories I unearthed while researching the folklore. So there’s more of the same, with dozens of new stories retold in English for the first time.
LS: What is the readership for this book?
RJS: Storytellers, folklorists, comedians, wisdom seekers, readers interested in Middle East culture and world literature — and everyone who loves to laugh.
LS: Where did you locate these stories?
RJS: Other than the Shah books, I obtained a number of Nasruddin story collections in English primarily oriented to young readers while visiting Turkey. Then I discovered additional books in French, Spanish, Hebrew, German, and Turkish. Finally, I was able to access scholarly writing on Nasruddin, including articles and theses that included many of the previously suppressed stories dealing with taboo topics.
LS: Really? You didn’t make up any of these stories or jokes?
RJS: Not a one. Indeed, every single story is completely genuine according to sources that are listed in the book’s extensive bibliography. I’ve taken very little artistic license with the storylines, though I’ve modernized and unadulterated the language.
LS: What do you mean by “unadulterated’?
RJS: Meaning, I call a spade a spade. In one academic source written in 1957, with stories presented in Arabic and Turkish and translated into English, a particular Turkish term translated often as “my good woman” was actually a common slur against women. The profane language in the stories here is commensurate with that used in the original source materials.
The great American poet Walt Whitman wrote, “The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.” Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin, as it says in the subtitle, is unexpurgated: all the content previously considered objectionable and removed has been restored. As well, stories dealing with racial and ethnic prejudice, abuse, and violence are included. So the book is decidedly inappropriate for children, but adults will find a lot to laugh at in these pages.
LS: What topics do the tales deal with?
RJS: The stories follow Nasruddin as he regularly interacts with his wife, family, donkey, village, and strangers in his travels. Some deal with sexual situations, but often the humor is found in the character’s foolish behavior, as if to warn, “Don’t behave like this.” If I were to draw two overlapping circles, one denoting “stories that are very funny” and another “stories that are really *wrong* (politically incorrect), there would be a significant overlap.
LS: Finally, can you tell us your favorite Nasruddin story?
RJS: Not really, in this format, because my favorites are several pages long but here’s a short one:
One day, Nasruddin was sitting idly on a riverbank when a fellow approached. From the other side of the water, the stranger called out, “Say, Mullah, how do I get across the river?” Without looking up, Nasruddin simply replied, “You are across.”
LS: How can readers find out more about these books as well as your other work?