Behind the story: ‘The Forty Thieves: Marjana’s Tale’

The newest title from our Yellow Jacket imprint, The Forty Thieves, by Christy Lenzi, is a retelling of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” a folk tale set in tenth-century Baghdad. This version, told from the perspective of Marjana — the girl who saves the titular Ali Baba — brings a fresh perspective to the classic story.

But what is the original story to begin with?

“Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” is a tale included in many versions of One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folklore compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as The Arabian Nights. This story in particular is one of the most well-known, at least to the western world, as its plot is straightforward and its themes of loyalty and honesty are easily digestible. (It also coined the term “open sesame,” so you can decide why it was really popularized).

The story, in summary, is about a man named Ali Baba, is a poor woodcutter who discovers the secret of a thieves’ den, full of stolen goods and riches. The thieves learn of this, and try to kill Ali Baba, but Baba’s faithful slave foils their plans. Ali Baba then gives his son to her in marriage, and keeps the secret of the treasure.

That slave is Marjana, the protagonist of Lenzi’s retelling. In this version, Marjana — though not in a position of power — is much more three-dimensional, her backstory including relationships with her little brother, Jamal, and her other enslaved friends, Saja and Badi. In this retelling, Marjana shines as a brave girl who exhibits courage when it is needed most, not overshadowed by the adult male figures in her life.


‘The Forty Thieves’ is now on sale. Learn more about it here.

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