Tuesday, March 22, 2011

HAJJI BABA: beautiful yet savage old book

          I worked for five years as a Library Technician in the children's room at the Santa Ana Public Library.  I loved it there. One of the many benefits was being able to snag old books that were being discarded, and I ended up with some real treasures.
          One of those treasures is a book called The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan by James Morier, "with a profusion of pictures" by Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge.  (I love that phrasing)  The book was published in 1937 by Random House, Inc.  (The copyright date was printed in Roman numerals and I had to look up a guide on translating them because I've totally forgotten.  D'oh!)
          Check out the fugly cover, but don't let it fool you into thinking there's nothing good inside:
Purple paisley? It's in a lumpy plastic slip-case, too, with the barcode slapped rudely on the front. Gross.
          But inside it's full of adventure, magic, and romance from the Middle East.  Also lots of sexism and violence.  One of the short stories is called, "The Tale of the Baked Head."  It's labeled "YA," and at first I thought they were just being prude about it, when really it should have been in the children's room. But after going through it, I decided that yeah, it's on the mature side.
          There are many beautiful line illustrations in black and white, such as this rather alarming and unexpected one:
I will leave the interpretation of this image up to you.
          There were about fifteen full-color plates originally, but one was ripped sadly in half, and several others were missing entirely.  The ones that are left, though, are beautiful, and really captured my attention because of the rich colors and the sometimes bizarre images and captions.

"Doctor, mashallah! you have good taste! The animal is fine!"

 Pssst... check out the HUMAN HEAD floating in the water:
"More screams and cries ensued"
"Your eyes have made roast meat of my heart"
"What bliss is like to whisp'ring love?"

"The cat must come from under the blanket"


  1. What an unusual book, Tommy. I wonder if it's worth some money, if it would be considered a rare book. I bet you could sell it on ebay and get some good bids on it. The illustrations would be neat to frame and hang in a sultry room with a Middle Eastern theme. Hmmm, I have a belly dancing tapestry that would go with these!

  2. The cover you show isn't the original which can be seen at http://i.ebayimg.com/00/$(KGrHqZ,!i!E2Tb1c63+BNsg0oePD!~~_12.JPG

    Great biography at http://tinyurl.com/CyrusLeroyBaldridge

    1. Thanks, Jay! I loved seeing the original cover, and the bio is fascinating! I love that he was devoted to his nomadic and independent mother. Very cool. :)