THE BOOK OF SALADIN by Tariq Ali

THE BOOK OF SALADIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Ali (Fear of Mirrors, p. 1302), a historian, academic, satirist, filmmaker, screenwriter, playwright, and—yes—novelist, here continues the tale, begun with Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (1993, not reviewed), of Islam’s confrontation with Christianity. The style of this second entry in a projected trilogy or quartet is smooth indeed as Ali chronicles the days of Saladin in 12th-century Cairo, Damascus, and Jerusalem. Yet the emotional flow of the fictional memoir is often rendered in banalities, as when young Saladin (real name: Salah al-Din) is abandoned by his mistress for an older man: “So I rode back to Damascus in a jealous rage, weeping tears of anger and of sadness.” No doubt. But such feelings have been rendered rather more intensely by writers ranging from Dostoevsky to Salinger. Even so, one is carried along by the sheer gallop of the storytelling and dead-on sense of time and place. In volume one, Islam lost Spain after ruling the Iberian peninsula for 300 years. As a Kurdish warrior, Salah al-Din claims his most outstanding conquest in the liberation of Jerusalem in 1187; the city had fallen to the First Crusade in 1099 and left Islam shaken, reeling, panicked. His story is told to a Jewish scribe named Ibn Yakub, who also interviews other members of Salah al-Din’s court, including his wife. At length, Salah al-Din becomes Sultan of Egypt and Syria; his story is rounded out with a letter detailing the character and devilments of the despised Richard “the Lion-Arse.” Episodic but red-blooded and even thoughtful, as if urged on by Leonard Bernstein conducting Carl Orph’s Carmina Burana.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-85984-834-6
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Verso
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1998




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