(urth) Short Story 76: Seven American Nights

Marc Aramini marcaramini at gmail.com
Tue Sep 9 23:37:40 PDT 2014


“Seven American Nights” first appeared in *Orbit 20* in 1978 and is
collected in *The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other


Nadan Jafferzadah’s notebook has been sent to his family in Iran with a
note from Hassan Kerbelai, the private investigator they have hired to find
him The note asserts Kerbelai found the notebook in Delaware and that he
will discontinue the search if more money is not forthcoming.


Nadan arrives on the *Princess Fatimah* after a 12 day voyage to the coast
of America and voices his excitation and love of arriving: “Like the
delight a condemned man must feel when a letter from the shah snatches him
from beneath the very blade of death.” He is astonished by the yellow
waters close to America and comments upon them to the ironically named Mr.
Tallman and to the grain merchant Golam Gassem – both of whom react with
disdain. The captain of the ship comes up and tells him that it is
Tallman’s country bleeding to death. (On this night, he has a dream of a
loaf of bread “smeared with gray mold.” He wonders why the Americans would
wish such a thing - “yet all the historians agree that they did, just as
they wished their own corpses to appear living forever.”)


Nadan begins writing the next day of his room with its two beds, and tells
of the “red- and purple- clad strangers, who mob their own streets like an
invading army” in the ruins of Washington D.C. He sleeps late and describes
the trucks with oxen and horses. He is on Maine Street and comments on the
widespread genetic damage to the people of America – hunchbacked, deformed,
and twisted. The hotel manager tells him to go north for the buildings,
south for the theater, and west for the park, but to take security. Nadan
says he has his pistol. At night he starts writing of his afternoon
visiting the buildings to the north where he encountered several beggars,
but first states that his girlfriend back in Iran must never read his
journal and asseverates that he believes he was drugged on the ship.

He recounts America's reputation for chemicals and drugs that alter
consciousness, poison vermin, prevent bread from going stale, and create
mad visions that never end. During the afternoon, the locals show him the
White House, but he believes its name has been lost. A beggar without a jaw
takes him to the Smithsonian where he sees a man working on a machine. The
beggar, who confuses m's and n's, says “Someday we will be great again”
(though it is possible he actually said “Sunday we will be great again.”)

That night Nadan goes out to eat and then attends the theater, where
Vidal's *Visit to a Small Planet* is playing. Its contents have been
modernized “just as we sometimes present* Rustam Beg* as if Rustam had been
a hero of the war just past.” The curator from the Smithsonian sits right
next to Nadan, who is impressed with the female who plays Ellen in the play
and the clubfooted man who plays the alien Kreton.

Nadan begins speaking to the elderly man from the museum, buying him a
sandwich and engaging him in conversation. The curator talks of the
principal of extended abstraction, in which the true essence of
communication is smell. “When you smell another human being you take
chemicals from his body into your own, analyze them, and form the analysis
you accurately deduce his emotional state. .. When you speak, you are
telling another how you would smell if you smelled as you should and if he
could smell you properly.” He goes on to say that writing is the third
level of abstraction.

Nadan appreciates some features of the play, such as Kreton and Ellen (a
fact which he tells the Curator) and the reading of the family cat's mind
by the alien. He is offended by the presentation of the Turks. The curator
is dismissive of modern drama and says “Ellen is a trollop, and Powers a
drayman. That lame fellow Kreton used to snare sailors for a singing house
on Portland Street.” Nadan buys the old man some marzipan eggs which he
finds unpleasant and stashes the last six in his pocket.

The curator tells Nadan of writing, and the concept of the closed and open
curves. He says he has a machine which imitates handwriting and another
which composes it for a “national psychological effect.” One of the papers
he shows Nadan has the word *Sardinia* on it amidst other handwriting, the
other is blank – his example of an open curve.

Nadan notes that the final scene hinges on “the device our poets call
the *Peri's
asphodel*, a trick so shopworn now that it is acceptable only if it can be
presented in some new light. The one used here was to have John – Ellen's
lover- find Kreton's handkerchief and, remarking that it seemed perfumed,
bury his nose in it … conveying to the audience that John had, for that
moment, shared the telephathic abilities of Kreton, whom all of them had
now entirely forgotten.”

Nadan takes the curator home, walking beneath the stark overpasses and

It occurred to me then that there may be a time flaw, such as astronomers
report from space, somewhere in the Atlantic. How is it that this western
shore is more antiquated in the remains of a civilization not yet a century
dead than we are in the shadow of Darius? May it not be that every ship
that plows that sea moves through ten thousand years?

He vows to cleanse his journal before letting Yasmin see it and writes of
how he bought a hallucinatory drug from the woman who helped him get the
old man from the museum in bed, commenting that the museum has no income
save in selling relics of the past. He soaks one of the eggs in the drug
and vows to eat one per day so that he can speak with knowledge of
America's hallucinogens.

He cannot sleep and daydreams that he is Kreton, and that Ellen is bringing
him the six eggs. He gets the hotel manager to bring him a woman, and he
brings three. The last of them looks like Yasmin, but has a club foot
similar to Kreton's. He writes of this in the morning of the next day.


Nadan goes to the park to sketch, taking a boat and exploring Hains Point
and most probably East Potomac Park as well. He sees giant ratholes and
rabid packs of dogs. He kills one of them with his pistol while he
sketches. Four or five able Americans pretending to be beggars accost him,
and he says that he has killed one of their own. He eats one of the eggs,
finding it more frightening than the park, then goes out to dinner.

He thinks of ending his account but portrays his visit to the theater to
see Barrie's *Mary Rose, *starring the same girl who played Ellen in the
previous play, listed as Ardis Dahl on the playbill. During the title
character's disappearance from the stage during the play, he sees her
sitting in the audience but is unable to talk to her. After the play,
remains sleepless and manages to push open the manager's door an attain a
directory, learning that there is a Dahl family close to the theater.

Nadan speculates that Ardis is such a great actress because “ in some part
of her mind her stage became her reality”. He walks to the house overcome
with emotions, then thinks that perhaps they are all born of the drug in
the egg; he bites the insides of his cheeks and strikes at a building
before regaining his composure. Attempting to pay the man who answers the
door at the Dahl house to let him stay, the man says he cannot let Nadan in
and prompts him to try the house on the corner. Through the door the man's
wife reminds Nadan of the fallen Statue of Liberty.

On his way back, he glances up to see a red flash and beastly figure in the
night leap at him. He does not think he has time to raise his pistol fully,
but when Nadan comes to his senses the beast is dead before him, a female
with a chest wound. He thinks it both a feral dog and a human being. He
mentions that over ten years ago he had read of such things in a book by
Osman Aga, *Mystery Beyond the Sun's Setting*.

Here Nadan reveals what happened to America:

In the last century, when the famine gripped their country and the
irreversible damage done to the chromosomal structures of the people had
already become apparent, some few turned to the eating of human flesh. No
doubt the corpses of the famine supplied their food at first; and no doubt
those who ate of them congratulated themselves that by so doing they had
escaped the effects of the enzymes that were then still used to bring
slaughter animals to maturity in a matter of months. What they failed to
realize was that the bodies of the human beings they ate had accumulated
far more of these unnatural substances than were ever found in the flesh of
the short-lived cattle. From them … rose such creatures as the thing I had


In the morning, he resolves to go cut the head of the creature off, but it
is gone without a trace. Nadan goes forth to buy a gift for Ellen and
selects a bracelet made of old coins. He returns to dinner and takes his
second egg. He fears that perhaps the drug rendered visible that which had
previously been invisible on the previous night. He naps and dreams that
Ardis/Ellen is caressing him with long fingered hands before going to see *Mary
Rose* again. He talks to the actor who plays Kreton and attempts to enlist
his aid in meeting Ardis. Kreton calls the current play a “turkey”. Here
Kreton asks him if he drinks, and Nadan replies that he does not but will
gladly buy him one. As they walk, Kreton comments on his leg and the
excuses he must always use in the play, then mentions that perhaps
sometimes the potter is simply angry. He quotes the Persian *Rubaiyat*:
“None answered this; but after Silence spake /A Vessel of a more ungainly
Make: /They sneer at me for leaning all awry; /What! Did the Hand then of
the Potter shake?” and Nadan claims that he is unfamiliar with it (It is
Fitzgerald's translation).

Kreton indicates that not all Americans are unsightly, thinking of himself.
Nadan offers him twenty rials to introduce him to Ardis after Kreton
mentions that there should be other things he is interested in besides
knowing who Ardis is entertaining, like the secret hidden beneath Mount
Rushmore. Nadan reveals he is a pupil of Akhon Mirza Ahmak who came to
America thirty years ago to examine the miniatures in the National Art

He feels Kreton reaching into his pocket and starts a scuffle. The police
arrive and arrest Kreton, insisting that Nadan press charges after beating
the actor down. As Nadan lies in bed, Ardis comes to plead with him so that
they can gain the actor's release. He offers to claim that it was a
misunderstanding with the police. She reveals that they have breathed life
into the theater in the past two years and their next production will be*
Faust. *She says that Americans were never polite culturally and that they
feel betrayed and cheated. “When we feel cheated we are ready to kill; and
maybe we feel cheated all the time.”

Ardis claims she must get some things at home, and Nadan offers to take
her, even if she lived in Kazvin or Mount Kaf (known as the farthest point
of the Earth to Persia). He sees a note from her after she leaves offering
real love if he can procure Bobby's freedom (the actor who plays Kreton is
named Bobby O'Keene).


Nadan dreams of walking with Ardis and being stalked by the beast. The
power on his pistol is running out. He spends all day with Ardis at the
police and then at the penitentiary seeking to gain Bobby's freedom. Here
he says that Ardis showed him where she lived, “a few doors from the
theater”. They go to the Federated Enquiry Division to procure his release,
but Ardis insists part of it is rented by the Washington Police Department.
Nadan feels that they wield far more authority than they pretend to. He is
interviewed by a woman with forty or fifty teeth who mentions that some of
the oldest coins show heads of wheat and that this is a fertile part of the
country in her small talk. He explains that he only requires the release of
the thief. At two they go to the other side of the river to look at the
inmates in a penal colony where they fail to find Bobby.

That afternoon they wind up in a restaurant near Ardis' apartment where
Golam Gassem and Mr. Tallman from the ship are also eating, and Ardis acts
suspiciously, wanting to leave before she is seen with Nadan, claiming that
she is “friends” with the two men and that she wants to maintain their
mutual trust. When Nadan and Ardis show up at the theater, Bobby is free.

That night Nadan is drafted into playing a role in *Mary Rose* since an
actor named Terry has disappeared (Nadan does not think that Ardis is
really surprised by his disappearance). As Mary Rose's husband Simon, he is
introduced as Ned Jefferson. Nadan insists his dramatic personality came
from growing up on Persian literature such as the *Shah Namah*. Afterwords,
Ardis and Nadan caress and kiss in the dark, but she refuses to let light
enter. She says that tomorrow he will see her, and that the theater will be
closed for Easter; they will go to a party. After she leaves, Nadan finds
that only two of the eggs remain (there should be three) and that his
journal has been moved to the other side of the bed. He eliminates from his
journal any indication of why he came to America. He ends the entry by
claiming that he will make the taking of the eggs significant, and that the
love he and Ardis will share will be something worthy of great intrigue and
lasting significance.

DAY 6:

Ardis comes before noon and they walk north to the park. They rent a boat
and Ardis asks if he intends to spend all his time in Washington. Nadan
insists his original plan was to head north after a week to Philadelphia,
but now he would stay forever if she so desired. She invites him to the
interior of America to seek its great prizes and reveals that her father is
a map maker who used to search out that treasure himself. Ardis also says
that “there are people in the interior who are no longer people. Our bodies
are poisoned … all of us Americans. They have adapted … but they are no
longer human.” Her father trades with them and sells the maps they bring

She also states that Bobby and she have been using Mr. Tallman and Golam
Gassem to finance an expedition to the interior. She says there is a better
one and that after they attain it they will return to Teheran together.
They go back and prepare for the evening's party, and Nadan sees a
Christian procession with a priest and smoking censers. He notes “the
entire procession – from the flickering candles in the clear sunshine, to
the dead leader lifted up, to his inattentive, bickering followers behind –
seemed to incarnate the philosophy and the dilemma of these people. … I
realized that its ritualized plea for life renewed was more foreign to them
than to me.”

The notebook then remarks that it is very late and Nadan has resolved to
burn his notebook. He asks how he could have loved “that”, referring to
Ardis. The party was a masque, and after they had made love in the dark
Nadan used his pistol to light up the alcohol waiting in a nearby glass to
behold her.

Nadan claims that the eagle is dead and “Ardis is the proper symbol of
[America's] rule.” He has eaten both of the last eggs, one before the party
and one after probably killing Ardis. He hopes that what he saw was only an
illusion of the egg.

If hallucinations now begin, I will know that what I saw by the light of
the blazing arrack was in truth a thing with which I have lain, and in one
way or another will see to it that I never return to corrupt the clean
wombs of the women of our enduring race. I might seek to claim the
miniatures of our heritage after all, and allow the guards to kill me – but
what if I were to succeed? I am not fit to touch them. Perhaps the best end
for me would be to travel alone into this maggot-riddled continent; in that
way I will die at fit hands.

Nadan later hears Kreton walking outside his door with footsteps like an
earthquake and hears the word *police* like thunder. He sees “My dead
Ardis, very small and bright, has stepped out of the candle-flame, and
there is a hairy face coming through the window.”

The final section switches to Nadan's mother and Yasmin, who speculates
that Nadan is still alive as they look over the journal, but must be
imprisoned or ill. The old woman asks, “You think this is his writing? …
Perhaps. Perhaps.”


The American plot to regain global ascendancy involves the grain merchant
Golam Gassem and poisoning Iran and perhaps all of Europe and the Middle
East. Nadan’s dream of the moldy bread, the old man from the Smithsonian
who talks of smell as true communication, and America’s reputation as the
greatest creator of hallucinogens and chemicals reveal the plot – gaining
revenge on the powers of the world as the Americans have poisoned
themselves via a kind of airborne mold-spore. The actors in the play are
simply playing another drama in every interaction with Nadan, and it is
likely that during his stay in America he is replaced and the remainder of
his journal forged by the machine in the Smithsonian at the termination of
Maundy Thursday.


The precise environs in Washington DC can be located – down to a Holiday
Inn on Maine Street. The year seems to be approximately 2050-2060. Nadan
states that Persia has suffered a 2300 year eclipse (its empire subjugated
and its power waning during the Greco-Persian conflict, with Alexander the
Great defeating Darius III by 333 BC). America's collapse was sudden and
complete and tied to chemically tampering with food to both preserve grain
products and to vastly accelerate the maturation of livestock.


In *Attending Daedalus*, Peter Wright notes that *Seven American Nights* is
not really “a conundrum designed to ensnare the reader in a series of
interminable puzzles” but that Wolfe emphasizes “early in the narrative
that the mysteries of the story cannot be solved, [indicating] that the
text is an insoluble self-referential puzzle about the conundrum of
perception rather than an enigma for the reader to solve by detection.”
This is prompted by the various levels of reliability of the narrative: any
given day could be a hallucination of the egg, Nadan has excised his true
reason for coming to America and embellished early descriptions, a machine
can forge handwriting in the story, and the detective also has a motive to
present the notebook to give Nadan’s family hope (which might have a forged
subplot so that in the case of detection he can always say he was not
involved in the forging of the document).

As with so many of Wolfe’s interpreters, while this sounds like a nifty way
to approach the story (it’s like … about the infinite indeterminacy of
perception, man …) we should know better. This is the least useful
interpretation of *Seven American Nights*, and we will discard it here.
There is only one story I am willing to venture does not have a single
bottom in Wolfe written during the first half of Wolfe’s career, and that
is “Forlesen”, due to its theme of the meaninglessness of the modern life
Forlesen must live.

How many levels of abstraction can we have before the original subject
disappears? The Smithsonian man philosophizes on all communication being
based on scents, of which writing (an abstraction of verbal communication)
is already at the third level. In the above scenarios, we see even more
levels of abstraction – and most assuredly, our original subject, Nadan,
will disappear in the abstraction. There are two compelling pre-existing
theories to explain the action in *Seven American Nights*, but our
preferred thesis here will modify one of them slightly.

EXPLANATION 1: Borski's Combination of Days 5 and 6 and Ardis' Lycanthropy

In his essay “The Far Plutonian Shore”, Borski posits that Nadan, observed
by the American Government, who have perhaps determined his true motive for
coming to America (stealing the Persian miniatures guarded at the National
Art Musuem), excises the end of Day 5 and the start of Day 6 from his
journal, combining the days and hiding his visit to the museum. Borski then
believes that Nadan is lying about the eggs being disturbed – that he ate
one as usual and had two remaining, but creates a cover story, perhaps
hiding behind the oblivion of the hallucinogen as an excuse if he is
detained (though if he is truly being watched, the government should know
how long he has been in the United States). However, Borski thinks the
hallucinogen is in one of the eggs eaten on the last day, when Nadan has
visions of Ardis in his candle, a hairy face at the window, and hears
Kreton's thundering steps outside.

Borski posits that the beast which was killed but whose body disappeared is
simply Ardis, whose chest has been furrowed and wounded on the second
night. The problem with these theories lies in the almost magical presence
of a lycanthropic character and the relative ineffectiveness of purging an
entire day from the journal this late in his visit after attracting police
attention– if Nadan is being watched, by that point the police or F.E.D.'s
know how long he has been in the United States and when Bobby was arrested.

EXPLANATION 2: Tallman's Early Excision, the American Plot, and the
Replacement of Nadan after Maundy Thursday

David Tallman provides a much more convincing explanation for many of the
small details in *Seven American Nights* which makes use of the plots of
the plays that Nadan watches as well as his visit to the Smithsonian and
the resentful presence of Golam Gassem. In Tallman's scheme, when Nadan
witnesses the man at the Smithsonian working on a machine, he brings
attention to himself as someone who might be on to an American intrigue
(especially since he arrived on the same ship as Mr. Tallman and Golam
Gassem). Later the same museum man shows up at the final showing of *Visit
to a Small Planet* to determine how much Nadan understands.

At this meeting, Nadan reveals that his hands have been cramped from
writing, that he is much taken with the two actors playing Kreton and
Ellen, and it is from a woman who helps Nadan put the Curator to bed that
he buys the “hallucinogen” with which he douses one of the eggs. While
Tallman agrees that the true purpose of Nadan's visit is to regain the
Persian miniatures from the National Art Musuem (a small elaborate painting
comparable to those in Western illuminated manuscripts), he sees the
subtext as a vast and extensive plot first to kill Nadan which then
transforms into an attempt to minimize leakage when he does not immediately

Tallman also proposes that the second day is the point at which Nadan
altered his manuscript by excising material for the following reasons, as
posted on the WolfeWiki, which I am presenting here in their original form:

I count seven full nights if Nadan's first day of sightseeing didn't go all
the way to the ruined capital buildings. There are a few hints that this is
the case:


   Early on, he is writing with closed shutters and a candle (p. 340, Orb
   edition of IODDAOSAOS). Something outside is beating on the shutters (A
   wild animal? Moths?), which seems to indicate late at night. On the day he
   visits the ruins, he opens the shutters and the sun is just setting.

   He's fearful and homesick that first day. The second day he's brave
   enough to go out to a restaurant and to the theater at night.

   His attitude about going to the park changes. On p. 339 he wants to
   postpone it until he has seen other things. On p. 344 he is ashamed he
   didn't go that day. This seems more likely if they are two different days.

   He says he spent the whole day at the ruins on p. 347. The other day
   mentions sleeping late, listening to musicians, and people-watching. His
   first writing for that day is at about 4:30pm (midnight Iran time with
   local daylight savings time p. 338) back in his room, which doesn't allow
   that much time for ruin explorations.

Nadan arrived in Washington on a Saturday (based on the parade being on
Good Friday). On Sunday, he headed north to see the National Art Gallery
first. (Why would he bypass the place his famous uncle visited and see the
old ruins first? The gallery was on his way there.) That night, he wrote of
his fears.

On Monday, his second day of sightseeing, he visited the capital building
ruins, the Smithsonian, and the theater.

Why did he write so little about that first day, and let it run into the
next day with such an abrupt transition? The answer is he removed some
pages from the journal after he found it was disturbed. In [writing] about
the gallery he must have revealed his intention to steal certain
"miniatures of our heritage" (p. 382). He excised the pages to protect
himself from the police (far too late, alas).

Here is David Tallman's timeline for the story:


   Nadan arrives in Washington.
   Angers Mr. Tallman by pointing out yellow water.
   Begins to be fearful, but will not admit it in journal for Yasmine.
   Has dream about moldy bread.

   Palm Sunday
   Nadan heads north to see the buildings.
   Visits the National Art Gallery.
   Writes of his intent to steal miniatures.
   Late that night, writes of his fears.

   Nadan goes back and visits the ruined buildings.
   The beggar with no lower jaw shows him the Smithsonian room.
   The beggar boasts "Sunday we will be great again," knowing that he will
   be misunderstood as saying "Someday we will be great again."
   Nadan's visit is noticed by F.E.D. informers among the beggars.
   Nadan seeing the face of the "curator" along with the forging machine is
   a problem.
   The police tail him to the theater.
   The "curator" goes in, sits in his row, and draws him into conversation.
   Curator can tell he was recognized.
   Curator pretends to be ill. Nadan escorts him home.
   Nadan is sold poison, which he is told is a hallucinogenic. (It might be
   an overdose of a recreational drug.) He is supposed to take it and die that
   night, with any letters he might have written during the day still unmailed.
   Nadan doses the eggs. Unknown to himself, he is playing real Russian

   Police are now in a bind. Nadan didn't take the poison. Where is it?
   Why didn't he take it? Could he be a spy? They have to be cautious.
   If he dies some other way and the poison is found, the plot may be
   Nadan visits the park during the day.
   Police following him save his life from a dog-pack attack. The howling
   was not because the dogs were "mourning their fallen leader" but because
   the police were killing more dogs.
   Nadan could have been aware of their assistance but chose to omit it to
   make himself look more heroic.
   Nadan attends the theater again and sees "Mary Rose."
   Eats egg one.
   Goes out to try to find Ardis.
   Police follow him and save him from the werebeast. The "flicker of
   scarlet" he saw was the targeting laser of his shadower's gun on the beast.
   Nadan had no time to aim, so the shot that killed the beast was probably
   not his own.
   Police clean up the body of the beast and remove other traces as much as

   Buys gift for Ardis at the Washington Monument fair.
   Police have given up on his taking the poison on his own. They contact
   Bobby and Ardis with a plan.
   Nadan eats egg two.
   Attends first part of "Mary Rose."
   Bobby fakes an attempt to pickpocket Nadan, gets arrested.
   Ardis comes to Nadan's room to intercede for Bobby.
   She is prepared to have sex with Nadan, but not spend the night. She
   must make her report to the police.
   She leaves a scented note promising future favors.

   Nadan spends most of the day trying to get Bobby out of jail.
   While he is occupied, the secret police search his room. They are
   experts and leave no trace.
   They make a copy of his journal and get it translated.
   Nadan returns home, eats egg three.
   He goes out to the play, where he ends up performing.
   The police return while he is absent.
   They found the mention of the eggs in the journal.
   Using a sniffing dog or other detector, they find the poisoned egg and
   remove it. They are no longer concerned that Nadan will see his room is
   Nadan goes to Ardis' apartment.
   Ardis falsely promises that the next day will be a picnic in the park.
   She says the theater will be closed for Easter, but tomorrow is actually
   Good Friday.
   Nadan returns, finds the journal disturbed. He tears out the
   incriminating section about the Art Museum visit (shortening the record for
   Nadan writes his last entries in the journal.
   Police arrive and arrest him.

   Good Friday
   Nadan is interrogated, probably tortured, and killed.
   Police now know he is connected to Ahkon Mirza Ahmak, of the Iranian
   nobility. There is certain to be an inquiry.
   They also know that Nadan showed his family the journal before he left.
   His journal is fed to the story-composing computer to create a false
   The ending is added to the journal by the forging machine.
   Since the ending calls for the death of Ardis, they kill her that night
   with Nadan's gun.
   The reader of the forged ending is supposed to conclude that Ardis was a
   werewolf (or the hallucinogen made Nadan think so), and that Nadan killed
   her and went into the interior of America alone.

   Easter Sunday
   The American government will pull some kind of stunt. They may use a
   hidden stockpile weapon (say from under Mount Rushmore) that still works to
   create a terrorist incident, and use forged documents to put the blame
   A possible target is the Iranian moon colony, New Tabriz. A bomb
   smuggled into a grain shipment there (by Golam Gassem) could cause great
   Good ones to blame would be Turkey ("bloodthirsty race") or China (Iran
   had a recent war with them, as shown by the reference to a modern version
   of "Rustam Beg").
   It may start a war (As Kreton wanted to do in "Visit to a Small Planet").
   The intent may be to bring America back to more power in world, but
   mainly to bring down countries they hate, like Iran.
   "Sunday we will be great again" is about the power to bring about
   destruction. They have nothing to lose.
   "When we feel cheated we are ready to kill; and maybe we feel cheated
   all the time."


The majority of that time line looks sound (I am not confident the police
are killing other dogs in the park, as later they seem to use whips, but
certainly someone kills the more dangerous beast for Nadan with a laser
rifle and gets rid of the body). Tallman has a firm rationale for the
missing night being early in the text, and explains many of the small
details, including the inconsistencies in Nadan's character (such as the
possible use of alcohol) and in the tenor of the tale throughout the last
several pages, where suddenly Ardis is seen as a monster. He also makes use
of the embedded plays and the religious symbolism of holy week, with the
procession and triumphant entry into the city on Palm Sunday.

The character of Mollah Nadan in *The Adventures of Hajji Baba* (from which
many of the Persian names come) is strict in his abstinence (at least
according to his own self-description), and at one point even claims, “die
rather than eat, or drink, or smoke. Do like me, who, rather than abate one
tittle of the sacred ordinance, would manage to exist from Jumah to Jumah
(Friday) without polluting my lips with unlawful food” (Morier 321). This
mention of Friday to Friday even resonates with the text and supports the
idea that Nadan in fact never consumed the hallucinogen/poison during his

However, Tallman has added quite a bit to the plot by supposing that
America has a weapons stockpile, and that this strike will be through Golam
Gassem's grain, when there are textual bits of evidence that actually make
the assault far simpler.

When it is revealed that the next play will be *Faust*, and Nadan wonders
who will play the part of the Doctor if Kreton is Mephistopheles, we need
look no further than the man who has made a deal with America for illusory
gain: Golam Gassem, whose first name implies “slave” or “servant” with a
small variation in spelling (Gholam). As the one Middle Eastern name not
culled from *The Adventures of Hajji Baba *(beside Yasmin's) we can guess
that it has some other meaning.

The dream of the bread with mold on it is ominous, and Nadan even wonders
why America would wish it. The meeting between Mr. Tallman and the grain
merchant, as well as the promise that Mount Rushmore hides something
underneath (coupled with Nadan's speculation that America's chemicals and
poisons have been sitting in hidden places for decades) creates a better
picture of the American plot. As the curator says, the smell is the first
level of communication, and America has chemicals than can destroy when
sniffed. When the grain of Gassem is distributed and cooked into bread, the
gray contamination Nadan dreamed of may become an airborne reality. Nadan
also saw trees in the walls of the decayed buildings of Washington
D.C. - *carpinus
caroliniana*, whose fruit falls and disperses through the air, growing out
of civilization's remains.

This scheme is far more plausible given what we know about America's
current state than the smuggling of destructive weapons which can be blamed
on another nation. Nadan still faces replacement, arrest, and probably
execution on Friday per the religious resonances with Holy Week.

Since the majority of these names come from other fictional works, it is
not necessary to explore their meanings assiduously.

Nadan is named after a religious figure in *The Adventures of Hajji Baba*
who assiduously asserts that he never commits excess or drinks (it is also
a name for an idiot or stupid individual). This might represent
corroboration for David Tallman’s idea that one of the huge continuity
errors in the story involves Nadan and Ardis sharing a drink when he
previously stated he did not drink to the man he always refers to as
Kreton. In the original novel he changes clothing with the narrator and is
punished in his stead.

Osman Aga, the name of the fiction writer in *Seven American Nights*
reputed to use his reputation to get free food and promote his next
writing, is named after Hajji Baba’s first master in the same book, who is
trying to make a profit off of lamb skins. (It is also the name of a
historical author who was captured and wrote *Prisoner of the Infidels* –
this might be a coincidence of allusion for Wolfe, though certainly Morier
would have been riffing on that historic figure in his novel.)

Hassan Kerbelai, the private investigator trying to get money from Nadan’s
family, is named after the father of Hajji Baba, also a barber, as his son
is. While there is no “Hajji Baba” character, one of the actors in the play
is a barber. Mirza Ahmak is another character from Hajji Baba.

Golam Gassem's name does not come from the same source and seems to be an
original Wolfe invention. I hate to note it, but I feel it is a pun – his
function will be to effectively gas the dominant nations when his grain is
turned into poisoned bread tainted by the chemicals of America – Gas 'em.
Golam can imply a slave or servant.

Ardis Dahl's first name means “fervent” and Dahl implies “valley”, but as
per the verbal connotation of Gassem above, she serves the function of a
doll to attract Nadan.

Bobby O'Keene's name is similarly obvious – Robert implies “famed, bright,
or shining” and Keene can imply witty, sharp, or keen.


In addition to the gray mold which Nadan mentions, he also notices that in
the buildings of Washington DC, trees have begun to bloom. C*arpinus
caroliniana *is characterized by the small light seed pods which easily
float on the air, and perhaps this ability to grow through the cracks of
civilization is symbolic of America's plot as well.


The man from the Smithsonian shows Nadan a document from which he can read
the word *Sardinia*. Besides its position as a focal point into Europe, its
etymological presence is that of the sardonic grin – a plant commonly found
on the island makes corpses grin and grimace. The Sardonians had a ritual
of killing old people with the poison while laughing loudly. This famous
example of poison might support Tallman’s theory that the hallucinogen
given to Nadan might indeed be poisonous, and that his game of Russian
Roulette with the eggs is more deadly than he thinks. If this is true, then
certainly dogs being used to smell the egg would be the only viable way to
detect it, and explain the shifting of the eggs from one side to the other
(which would also make use of the old man from the Smithsonian’s insistence
on smell as true communication).


There is a tunnel behind Mount Rushmore which was originally envisaged as a
hall of records where important documents could be kept, but this appears
to be just a story. David Tallman theorizes it is a weapons cache, but I
fancy that the only weapons America has left are chemical in nature, the
same thing that destroyed them. Nadan says:

Americans were once the most skilled creators of consciousness-altering
substances the world has ever seen … innumerable poisons for vermin, and a
host of unnatural materials for every purpose, also contrived synthetic
alkaloids that produced endless feverish imaginings. Surely some, at last
of these skills remain. Or if they do not, then some of the substances
themselves, preserved for eighty or a hundred years in hidden cabinets, and
no doubt growing more dangerous as the world forgets them. I think that
someone on the ship may have administered some such drug to me.

Perhaps the tunnel beneath Rushmore is one of these cabinets, were the
substances have lain in wait for an unsuspecting world.


In addition to Nadan probably drinking on the final day and the problem of
Ardis' deformity being so drastic that it is sickening but undetectable in
clothes, it seems that the geography of the park is slightly off. The hotel
should be east and across a bridge (previously mentioned in the text) from
the East Potomac Park, but Nadan and Ardis walk North to reach it on the
last day.


The title is an obvious reference to *The Thousand and One Nights/The
Arabian Nights*, but thankfully our tale is shorter.

Almost every Persian name in the story comes from James Morier’s *The
Adventures of Hajji Baba*. The emphasis the Mullah Nadan places on not
drinking in the novel really does highlight the character inconsistency
noted by David Tallman in his analysis of *Seven American Nights*: he went
from claiming not to drink to having a half bottle of wine left in the
climactic scene in which he supposedly lights the alcohol with his pistol,
revealing the hideous nature of Ardis. According to the *Encyclopedia
Iranica*, the picaresque novel was considered:

An Orientalist project *parexcellence, Hajji Baba* lampoons Persians as
rascals, cowards, puerile villains, and downright fools, depicting their
culture as scandalously dishonest and decadent, and their society as
violent … in the form of a biography of a “native,” a composite Persian
character whose imagined identity was wrapped in deliberate ambiguities.
... Bizarre though it may seem, the Persian translation of *Hajji Baba *was
seen as a critical depiction of Persia’s backwardness and moral decadence,
a self-image that begged for Westernizing remedies. (“Hajji Baba of

Perhaps Wolfe employed this stereotyped vague and ambiguous character to
create his novella, but this time casting the critical eye on the Americans
who in the 20th century saw themselves as so great and civilized. Morier's
novel was not the only satire referenced.

Even more ironically, the theater puts on *Visit to a Small Planet*, a
farce that criticizes the age of McCarthyism in the United States, as a
paragon of what once was. Written by Eugene “Gore” Vidal, it involves the
spaceman Kreton arriving in the wrong time period. He telepathically
communes with the Spelding’s cat, named Rosemary. Out of boredom he seeks
to start a war, and in this novella America will play the part of the
alien. There are many changes to the play, including changing the name of
Ellen's lover to John Randolf (which means “house wolf” or “protector”).
The actor Terry plays John Randolf and Ardis' husband in the second play as
well – and his disappearance, which does not seem to surprise Ardis, keeps
Nadan busy while his room is searched (he must play the part of her husband
instead in *Mary Rose.) *This distraction allows the poisoned egg to be
removed, serving to protect Nadan for just a bit longer.

*Mary Rose*, from the author of Peter Pan, is a ghost story: it depicts a
woman who disappears twice, whose development is retarded by her
interaction with an ominous island which wants to keep her forever. The
second time she disappears, it is for years, and her child grows up while
she is gone, though she does not age in all that time. She speaks beyond
her own allotted time as a ghost, as perhaps Nadan will after he
disappears. Mary Rose is also an inversion of Rosemary. No doubt Gene Wolfe
appreciated the synchronicity of Eugene Vidal writing a play which included
Rosemary as well. Mary Rose also involves a mother's search for her son.

The next play that they will put on is *Faust*, and Nadan (or his
replacement) wonders who will play the doctor if club footed O'Keene is
Mephistopheles. Most probably the man who has made a deal for power and
knowledge is Golam Gassem in the role of Doctor Faust.

Nadan mentions the *Shah Nameh* as inspiration for his romanticism and
dramatic nature, an ancient Persian epic which detailed the exploits of
many heroes, including the Persian Hercules, Rostam. When O'Keene quotes
Fitzgerald's *Rubaiyat*, another Persian work of enduring literature, Nadan
does not recognize it, though perhaps this is a commentary on Fitzgerald's
loose translation.


Given Nadan’s presence in *The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan* as a
holy man and his visit to Washington D.C. during holy week, it is
appropriate to overlay the religious connotation on the story itself.
Christ is apprehended after his last super on Maundy Thursday and put to
death on Friday. In this story, It seems much of Nadan's Thursday is spent
trying to release Kreton and it is probable that Nadan will be arrested
after finishing his journal that night – this puts all of Friday into the
territory of “fiction”. His entrance into the city proper on Palm Sunday
then matches the entrance of Christ to Jerusalem, and the gaudy clothes of
the celebrants echo the bright colors used to decorate churches during Holy

The text stops before Easter Sunday – the only resurrection we see might be
America's if they can succeed in bringing the other powers down, though
here they represent something far more inimical and duplicitous than we
would expect. However, the earthquake of Kreton's step, the thunder of the
word police, and the time as three o'clock all resonate with the execution
and death of Christ.


Why doesn’t Nadan recognize Fitzgerald’s* Rubaiyat* (a very famous Persian
work of literature) when Kreton quotes it? Admittedly a loose translation,
is this a commentary on his inability to perceive the “spirit” of a
translation or is it a clue that Nadan has already been replaced?

Is Nadan really there to regain the miniatures from the Smithsonian?

Is there really no credence to the detective Hassan Kerbelai’s involvement?

Why does the prostitute who looks like Yasmin have the same deformity as
the “exotic” American who plays Kreton? Is it possible that there is
something ambiguous in the gender of Billy O'Keene?

Given that my thesis wholeheartedly endorses an American plot that employs
the grain merchant and its insidious airborne chemicals transmitted through
smell (Gas em!), do the two theories which account for the missing egg
(excised day from the journal in Borski’s scheme versus Tallman’s idea of a
drug sniffing dog stealing the egg) really have more weight than an idea
which posits that the monstrous creature he kills or the final days could
be something hallucinogenic in nature? It seems that in order to make use
of every detail in the text, Nadan must be replaced, and his arrest before
Good Friday is the best possible place for it, especially considering how
that point of the text ends with the words culminating in “end”: “If our
love is not a great love, destined to live forever in the hearts of the
young and the mouths of the poets, it will be so before the end.”

Like the other novellas of the 1970s, “Seven American Nights” explores
identity, perception, and cultural motivation and alienation. It even casts
America as a rather unmitigated villain, constituting one of Wolfe’s most
universally well-rounded works. The use of external plays and references to
explore themes was present in both *The Fifth Head of Cerberus* and *Peace.
*Despite Peter Wright’s assertion, there is still an objective back story
which makes use of most of the details present in the text. Perhaps the
truly inscrutable text from this period in Wolfe’s career remains
“Forlesen” rather than “Seven American Nights”.

The widespread loss of America's relevance most resembles *Operation ARES*,
and both works have sinister animals and the definite loss of
civilization's aegis at night in the streets of the East Coast. The
possibility of imprisonment and police abuse show the Kafkaesque in Wolfe,
a streak which extends from *The Fifth Head of Cerberus* to *The Land

Borski, Robert. “Far Plutonian Shore.” *The Long and the Short of It*. New
York: iUniverse, 2006. 52-61

“Hajji Baba of Ispahan.” Encyclopedia Iranica. Vol. XI, 6, 2003. 561-568.

Morier, James. *The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan*. Google E Books,

WolfeWiki. “Seven American Nights.” 21 November 2011, Web. September 9,

Wright, Peter. *Attending Daedalus: Gene Wolfe, Artifice and the Reader.*
Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003.
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