Seven American Nights

Publications

  • First publication
    • Orbit 20, ed. Damon Knight, Harper & Row 1978
  • Wolfe collection(s)
  • Other reprints
    • Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Eighth Annual Collection, ed. Gardner R. Dozois, Elsvier-Dutton 1979
    • The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year #1, ed. Terry Carr, Ballantine 1979
    • Nebula Winners 14, ed. Frederik Pohl, Harper & Row 1980
    • The Dark Descent, ed. David G. Hartwell, Tor 1987
    • Sailing to Byzantium / Seven American Nights, Tor Double 1989
    • A Fabulous Formless Darkness, ed. David G. Hartwell, Grafton 1992
    • Not the Only Planet: Science Fiction Travel Stories, ed. Damien Broderick, Lonely Planet Australia 1998
  • Awards
    • Nominee, Nebula Award for Best Novella, 1978
    • Nominee, Hugo Award for Best Novella, 1979
    • 3rd place, Locus Award for Best Novella, 1979

In a recent interview on National Review, Wolfe said that this is one of his favorite stories.

Summary

Nadan Jafferzadeh, a rich Iranian tourist, has disappeared after a week visiting America (which has been reduced to a poor third-world country). The only clue to what has happened to him is his travel journal. But can it be relied on? It seems to describe only six nights in America, not seven.

Analysis

Note: The following ending theory won the "2010 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary" on the waggish blog.
The Ending -- SPOILERS
Timeline -- SPOILERS

The Plays -- SPOILERS
The Missing Night -- SPOILERS

  • The "peri's asphodel" seems to be a reference to this short quote by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
    "If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke - Aye, what then?"
  • Jorge Luis Borges refers to this Coleridge quote in his short story "The Other," published in The Book of Sand:
    "All at once, I remembered one of Coleridge's fantasies. Somebody dreams that on a journey through paradise he is given a flower. On awaking, he finds the flower."
    The Borges story may provide another clue, since a false detail (a date printed on a dollar bill) reveals that an encounter was a dream (on one side, at least).
  • The author of Mystery Beyond the Sun's Setting is a contemporary of Nadan's named Osman Aga. There was a historical Osman Aga who wrote Prisoner of the Infidels (possibly a significant title). He was an officer of the Ottoman Empire who was held as a prisoner of war for many years by the Hapsburg Empire. Credit for finding this reference goes to JazzCat, who posts on http://usefulphrases.yuku.com.
  • James Morier's Hajji Baba of Ispahan, The Adventures of Hajji Baba is a famous book that may be a source Wolfe drew on for names. It features characters named The Mollah Nadan, Mirza Amak, and Osman Aga. Credit for this find also goes to JazzCat. (It's interesting that in this work the name Nadan is given to a religious leader).

Interpretations

  1. In the first paragraph, Nadan compares himself to a man condemned to death.
  2. The ruined city suggests Jerusalem. One part is described as "occupied."(As in 'Jesus Christ Superstar' -- "We are occupied. Have you forgotten how put down we are?") The police act like the Roman soldiers.
  3. He is staying at the "Inn of the Holidays" (holy days).
  4. The first real entry into the city is on Palm Sunday. Nadan describes crowds and music.
  5. People are plotting against him.
  6. Nadan is followed by beggars and people needing healing.
  7. A sacred place (the Washington Monument) has been converted into a den of thieves, selling stolen rings.
  8. Ardis becomes Judas, the disciple who betrays him by turning out to be something other than what she appears to be. Her gift is a bracelet containing pieces of silver. She shuts his mouth "with a kiss."
  9. The meal of sandwiches (bread) and fruit-flavored beverage (wine) recalls the Last Supper.
  10. Red and purple garments in the city. Scarlet and purple robes were put on Jesus.
  11. The last diary entries have: "It is very late -- three, my watch says." According to Mark, "It was three when they crucified him."
  • Like the woman with two halves to her face "one large-eyed and idiotically despairing, the other squinting and sneering," there are two horror stories here. One is a monster tale, but the hidden one is of human monsters. Many Americans today look down on terrorists from other countries and think we would never do such things. Wolfe's story shows that we could, were the roles reversed.

Unanswered Questions


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