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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Wonderful Lamp (The)
by Max Voegeli
Age Range: 9-11
Ali is a beggar-thief who lives in the ‘City of Happiness’, the ancient city of Bagdad. Although stealing is a dangerous crime and the punishment harsh, Ali often steals food to survive. One day after stealing a pancake from the baker and being chased through the streets, Ali finds refuge in a large crowd who have gathered in the square to listen to Mustapha, the storyteller as he relates the story of Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. Ali is transfixed and memorized by the tale and returns to ask the storyteller where he can find the magic lamp. However, Mustapha wants one gold Dinar for this information.
This sets Ali off on a series of exciting and daring adventures. First, he must find the money to pay the storyteller and when he is approached by a mysterious wealthy man to take part in stealing a page from the magic book belonging to the scholar Abu Bekr, he agrees as this will provide him with the funds he needs. However, Mustapha tricks Ali by telling him that stealing is an offence to Allah and full of remorse Ali goes back to Abu Bekr and confesses his crime. Abu Bekr forgives him and provides useful information about the lamp which is made of copper, if rubbed a spirit appears, and its location is somewhere on the island of Qualah. Ali must now find a way to get to the island and search for the magic lamp, a search that will ultimately change his life.
Swiss author Max Voegeli (1921-1985) created a compelling novel mixing elements of the well-known traditional stories from the One Thousand and One Nights: Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor and The Thief of Bagdad. First published in 1952, this fast-paced adventure story is engaging, full of atmosphere and hard to put down. Combined with the fantasy elements are the descriptions of the old city of Bagdad, swimming and diving in the river Tigris, travelling to Basra in a dhow.
The book is illustrated throughout by Felix Hoffman with black and white drawings which help to enhance the magical atmosphere of the novel.
There is a sequel to this novel: The Prince of Hindustan also reviewed on the website.