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The Book of Saladin: A Novel

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali has been a British national treasure for almost five decades. Revolutionary, writer, broadcaster, filmmaker, polemicist--fighter in the street--and general all-round trouble-maker (in the nicest possible sense), he's been them all, and … see full wiki

Author: Tariq Ali
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Verso
1 review about The Book of Saladin: A Novel

The Other Side's View of the Crusades

  • May 10, 2000
  • by
Rating:
+3
Taking a leaf from the Middle Eastern story teller's practice of unfolding stories within stories, this one offers a scribe's eye view of the rise to power and the career of one of history's most fascinating leaders, Salah al-din (Saladin to Westerners), the Kurdish leader who rose to be Sultan of the Arabic world in the wake of the Crusades, becoming one of the Crusaders' most noble and notable opponents. The antagoinst and, indeed, the very antithesis of the blunt and often brutal Richard the Lionhearted, that famed English Crusader, Saladin successfully pushed back the European incursions on Palestinian shores and faced down Richard and his royal cronies thereafter, concluding an honorable truce which allowed Richard to go home to England without his tail hanging too obviously between his legs. This is all told through the eyes of a medieval Jewish scribe, recruited by Saladin to write his memoirs. In the process we hear about the sexual dalliances of the harem and Saladin's court and get to see the Kurdish Sultan in his medieval Muslim milieu, besieged by the machinations of the lesser men who surround him. There is an odd abstractness to it all; this tale's not very vivid and is sometimes nearly colorless in its narrative. And there is no plot to speak of, merely the back and forth required to tell us who Saladin was and what happens after our scribe joins him. Time passes almost vaguely and we are absorbed in a series of anecdotal tales and tales within tales, a la the Arabian Nights, so that, in the end, one doesn't have a clear picture of all that may have been happening in this time and place. And yet this is a worthy antidote for those who have been surfeited with the heroism and glory of the European Crusades. The actual record shows these Europeans to have been a brutal and benighted bunch, largely put to shame by the nobility and wisdom of men like Saladin. And this book, despite its flaws, does justice to that view. For a more romanticized (but equally fair) picture of Saladin, told in far more ornate and colorful prose, you may want to check out Sir Walter Scott's THE TALISMAN, a tale of Saladin and Richard seen through early nineteenth century literary lenses. A completely made-up story, but nicely told. Still Mr. Ali's version is worth reading for its own sake. And to honor the memory of a great leader who has been given less good press than he deserved here in the West.The King of Vinland's Saga

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