In the introduction, Samia Bazzi discusses how proverbs reflect the life and heart of a culture, providing guidance and warnings by reflecting a nation’s experience, stories and history. These stories may become forgotten but the proverbs remain, as witnessed by this wonderful collection of primarily Lebanese proverbs, many which hail from rural life in villages but are also heard from people in cities without knowing the original stories.
Not all proverbs translate equally between languages, so Bazzi wisely translates and interprets the meaning of each Arabic proverb into English. At times, a comparison is also offered with a more common English-language proverb with a similar meaning. Page 20 offers one such example with He who has soft teeth should not break walnuts. It is “advice to be wise and prudent”, often expressed in English as People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
Others require lengthier explanations, which Bazzi doesn’t hesitate to provide, such as Your onion is burnt on page 50 which “is said of impatient people who generally end up with unsatisfactory results”. The logic behind this proverb, Bazzi explains, is because onions should be “fried at a low or moderate temperature, and need to be stirred all the time. However, if you are in a hurry you would use a high temperature to try to fry them quickly. The result is usually burnt onions.”
The proverbs are divided into themes that range from family or work issues to poverty, evil doings, embarrassment and regret, destiny and much more. There’s even a section dedicated to drunkards.
Taste the Arabic Proverbs provides a marvellous taste of culture with plenty of humour and food for thought. Wisdom is a gift passed down through generations and now to the world. Bazzi shares this gift with insight and great appeal.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 9