Wisdom From Kammbia Story Review 15: Seven American Nights by Gene Wolfe

by | Dec 27, 2022 | Gene Wolfe, Marion's Favorites, Marion's Reading Life Blog, Short Story Review, Wisdom of Kammbia Story Review | 2 comments

What is America?

The late Gene Wolfe attempted to answer this question in a novella that has been one of the genre’s best works of short fiction since its publication in the Damon Knight’s 1978 anthology Orbit 20. Seven American Nights won the 1979 Hugo Award for best novella and nominated for 1979 Nebula Award for the same category. The story has appeared in The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories collection and as Tor Double Paperback with Robert Silverberg’s Sailing to Byzantium. Also, the story is in the Best of Gene Wolfe collection as well.

Wolfe uses the framework of One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic, and translated to English in the early 18th century – the frame story being about king Shahryar and his story-telling wife Scheherazade. Wolfe remixes that narrative by taking the frame story from the journal of an Iranian tourist visiting a post-apocalyptic Washington DC, foolishly falling in love with a woman there.

The tourist gets caught up in several adventures that include a near robbery, being attacked by a rabid dog, and trying American food for the first time. Wolfe is known for using the unreliable technique throughout his major works, and it happens here in Seven American Nights.  Is the narrator hallucinating?  Is the journal a figment of his imagination?  What does he truly think of America? Those questions will get answered by the end of the story.  However, Wolfe takes the reader on a journey that is reminiscent of his best work, The Book of New Sun, Peace, and the Wizard Knight series.

Seven American Nights is not my favorite Wolfe story, however it is an excellent introduction to one of the best American writers that never gets mentioned outside of science-fiction and fantasy circles. I have read several Wolfe novels over the years and believe he has earned his reputation as the genre writer deserving to be mentioned in the same neighborhood with Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, and John Updike.

Unfortunately, Wolfe may be too fantastical for some serious readers’ taste, but he has addressed major themes of religion, male friendship, identity, aging, and the hero’s journey in his oeuvre. Now that he is no longer with us, I hope the mainstream literary reading class takes a closer look at his work like they are doing with Octavia Butler (rightly deserves it).  Gene Wolfe was the real deal, and he produced literature right under our noses and Seven American Nights was a solid example of such a claim.


  1. Aaron

    I just found and read this post. SAN is one of my favorite Wolfe stories. I would love to hear your take on the events of the story, if and when you have time. Anyway, thanks for the review.

    • MHill

      Hello Aaron,

      Thanks for the reply. Seven American Nights is one of Wolfe’s most interesting and thought-provoking short stories. I had read it twice before I posted that review. There is a lot in the story to discuss for sure. Thanks for the kind words about the review.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Marion Hill