King Solomon and the Gold­en fish: Tales From the Sephardic Tradition

Matil­da Koén-Sara­no, ed.; Regine­ta Haboucha, trans. and annotator

  • Review
By – September 24, 2012

King Solomon and the Gold­en Fish brews 54 oral folk­tales gath­ered by Koén-Sara­no from Sephardic infor­mants” with gen­er­ous notes by Haboucha which accom­pa­ny each sto­ry. The result is both schol­ar­ly and earthy. While Haboucha does point out threads com­mon to oth­er folk lit­er­a­ture in a 27-page motif index, folk­lorists will be delight­ed by the range of tales lit­tle known out­side of the Judeo-Span­ish world. Unique­ly Sephardic images include a hero who must walk with chick­peas in his boots. Super­nat­ur­al tales, roman­tic tales, and sto­ries about clev­er­ness, fate, the Prophet Eli­jah, the trick­ster Djo­há, and numb­skulls from the imag­i­nary town of Make­da reflect the eth­i­cal — and often patri­ar­chal— mores of Sephardic cul­ture, includ­ing bawdy folk-humor. Avine grow­ing from the bones of a mur­dered man pro­duces grapes that spurt blood; a princess who has laughed at a hunch­back becomes blind; and a snake wraps itself around the moth­er-in-law who has kept the bride’s moth­er from attend­ing her daughter’s wedding.

In com­men­tary and foot­notes, Haboucha explains Jew­ish cus­toms, dis­cuss­es sym­bol­ism and the intent of sto­ry types with­in Sephardic soci­ety and points to par­al­lel ver­sions of sto­ry themes. Twelve of the Djo­há selec­tions appeared in Koén-Sarano’s first col­lec­tion, but are new­ly trans­lat­ed here from Judeo-Span­ish in a very dif­fer­ent style. Seek­ing to pre­serve oral ori­gins of the tales, Haboucha retains nar­ra­tor asides, ungram­mat­i­cal tense shifts, and a pep­per­ing of vocab­u­lary from 16 lan­guages, reflec­tive of the lands where Span­ish Jews lived before their dis­per­sion through Europe and the Mid­dle East. This work opens with fore­word, intro­duc­tion, pre­am­ble, and preface.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she has been help­ing stu­dents vis­it­ing 826 Valen­cia loca­tions around the city to write sto­ries and poems and get­ting adults up and retelling Jew­ish folk­tales to share with their own spin. 

Discussion Questions