Sofia Samatar’s Inspired by Ancient Arabian Writings

Arabian Sources of Inspiration for Sofia Samatar

Inspiration is a compulsory ingredient for writers; it provides them with energy and gives a breath of fresh air. Finding sources of inspiration is the first step to start the process of creating a novel, a short story or any other type of literature.

In the case of Sofia Samatar, the inspiration for her Tender came from the Eastern culture, in particular, the ancient eastern literature – the compilation of tales known as Tales of the Marvelous and New of the Strange.

It is a collection of Arabian writings, somewhat similar to the famous “Arabian Nights” stories gathered and written down somewhere during the Middle Ages. Despite the fact, the Tales were written a few hundred years ago and its translation was only recently presented to modern readers, they reveal not only the negative and positive sides of Eastern society but also touches the issue how the East is perceived by the Western civilization.

Most of the Western people got used to thinking about the Eastern world as a primitive land of enchantment that can’t accept any modernity. This and some other views are investigated in details by Edward Said who applies a broad historical approach and explain the Eastern inability of self-determination.  In her book, Samatar leaves aside any prejudice and tries to combine Arabian fantasy with regular incursions of reality as much as possible. Such a decision is a big challenge and the author acknowledges this point, she is an opponent to the writers who use the tropes of Arabian fantasy separately, without any cultural context. She believes if you are talking about a particular detail, in our case, someplace, you have to keep in mind that it exists in the context, as a result, you have to pay attention to what is happening in this place. Some period of time Sofia Samatar was working in a war zone in South Sudan. She saw the hard reality with her own eyes and her experience is reflected in Tender.

This collection consists of 20 tales reading which you travel not only around our planet but also in time and reality. On pages, readers can feel the scent of the East as it is, without any decorations. The author and her truth invoke various feelings; they may be completely different – shocking, sad, playful, impulsive, harsh, affecting. In any case, you can’t be indifferent. Samatar makes her readers sit on the edge of their seats and presents extremely powerful satire. Story by story you explore completely new and surprising aspects of human being and the examples of the stories described below proves this.


First of all, the form of this short story catches your eye. You see the school paper created by a girl who studies at a high school. By means of the footnotes and kind of in the corners of this essay, she appeals to her teacher. The girl is young; she meets the hard reality, asks concrete questions and waits for answers from the grown-up. The story covers serious issues concerning the life of the teenager as well as the life of the adult teacher who is looking for some balance between the fulfillment of his duties and finding a common language with students.

An Account of the Land of Witches

Originally Sofia Samatar planned four sections for this story but the final version shows that author’s conception has been changed – she added the final fifth section.  The editor Kelly Linkplayed the main role in this, she found the story very compact and it ended very neatly and tightly, so she suggested creating an open end. She is an old hand in this business and her advice is worth its weight in gold, in this way the final section was created.


This writing presents us the history in which the central place is taken by different types of Anabaptist groups that avoid war. For that reason, they had to move from one place to another. In order to live simply and in peace, save their culture and language, they move all the time. When they meet conscription, they follow a previous course and migrate somewhere else. Ultimately, there is no place for these people on the Earth where they can preserve the right not to participate in warfare. They have only one option – discover outer space.