Historical fiction, fast published in France, based on the adventures of a merchant raised in North Africa, whose life was a...

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LEO AFRICANUS

Historical fiction, fast published in France, based on the adventures of a merchant raised in North Africa, whose life was a madcap tour of the capitals of the Ottoman and Renaissance worlds. Hassan al-Wazza, born in Grenada in 1488, was a small child when the city fell to the Christians and he and his Muslim family fled to Fez. Childhood there was a nonstop adventure, with visits to soothsayers and tours guided by his best friend, Harun the Ferret, through the markets where beggers faked epilepsy and storytellers told sexy yarns. In later years, Hassan and his uncle are sent to Timbuktu on a diplomatic mission, rite uncle dies en route, and the bereaved teen-ager has to take charge. Major business success follows, but when a powerful local businessman is murdered, Hassan, though innocent, is sent into exile. He ends up in Cairo, which is torn apart by plague and feuding, but he hooks up with the beautiful princess Nur and her infant son, who's in danger because his lineage makes him a sworn enemy of the Ottoman Empire. Hassan leaves Cairo to take the baby to safety, then is kidnapped by a pirate and brought to Rome as a gift for Pope Leo X. As a poet and well-connected diplomat, he's quickly elevated into the pope's inner circle. After Julian de Medici becomes pope, Hassan--now known as Leo Africanus--is sent to meet with the emissary of the Ottomans--who turns out to be none other than Harun the Ferret. But war is brewing, and Leo is lucky to be able to escape beseiged Rome and set sail back to Africa. The childhood chapters here are rich and evocative, woven through with vivid sensory detail and real relationships. But as Hassan's career picks up globe-trotting speed, the human dramas recede and the alliances and politicking become confusing; Hassan himself becomes a smooth-talking pawn rather than a compelling hero. But still: an intriguing outsider's glimpse of a familiar historical vista.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 1988

ISBN: 1561310220

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988