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Balthasar's Odyssey: A Novel Hardcover – November 12, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1 edition (November 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155970666X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559706667
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.3 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,232,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Maalouf (In the Name of Identity, etc.) takes his readers on a long, meandering literary journey in his latest historical novel, which revolves around the quest to find a book supposedly published during the days of the Ottoman Empire. The tome in question promises to reveal the 100th name of God, a revelation that could save the world from an apocalyptic meltdown as the year 1666 approaches. Curio shop owner Balthasar Embriaco, a Genoan living in the Levant, is the passionate but pedantic narrator who finds his life turned upside down when The Hundredth Name comes into his possession. Balthasar is skeptical about the book's authenticity, but he instantly regrets selling it for a significant sum to an emissary of the king of France, who quickly spirits the book off to Constantinople. The quest to recover the book turns into a labyrinthine effort to protect Balthasar's newfound love, a woman named Marta, who is on a quest of her own to find news of her long-lost husband. Balthasar is crushed when Marta reunites with her mate, but he travels on to London, where he finally locates the tome-only to discover that his health deteriorates every time he tries to translate it. Maalouf's initial conceit is promising, but too many of the plot twists turn into tangents, and the nebulous resolution of both subplots further dilutes the overall impact. Despite the narrative flaws, however, Maalouf has considerable success using cultural details to create an authentic atmosphere, and the novel effectively captures the flavor and spirit of 17th-century Europe.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Lebanese author Maalouf, winner of France's Prix Goncourt in 1993, sets this historical novel mostly in the Mediterranean of the mid-1600s. Balthasar Embriaco, an exiled Italian merchant, becomes fixated on retrieving a mysterious religious text called The Hundredth Name that he mistakenly sold to a traveler who stopped in his shop in the Levant. He thus sets out on a long journey, accompanied by his two nearly grown nephews, his manservant, and a woman seeking her estranged husband. The likable Balthasar prides himself on his Genovese heritage and his fairness and generosity as a merchant. He also considers himself a man of reason and respects this quality in others. His adventures, his love for a woman he yearns to marry, the men and women he befriends in his travels, and the internal push-and-pull he experiences between emotion and reason make this an entertaining read. Master storyteller Maalouf takes this part of the world at a time when doomsday is believed to be imminent and invests it with both humanity and intrigue. Highly recommended for most fiction collections.
Maureen Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 18 customer reviews
This is the third book I have read written by Mr. Maalouf and still he hasn't disappointed me.
Raul Baz Suarez
The conclusion of the book left me empty as if Balthasar took a wrong turn on his journey and never quite got back on track.
David F. Mamrak
Finally, there were too many interesting plots that terminated without satisfying conclusions.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on January 22, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have to confess that I did not expect to enjoy Balthasar's Odyssey. I had chosen it on the strength of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes and it was only after I bought it that I became aware of the mixed reviews and the unhappy readers.

I am pleased to say that in the end I enjoyed it quite a bit. Far from discouraging me in reading further in the Maalouf novels, it has encouraged me to think that I will enjoy the rest of his work. I will be picking up Samarkand next, I think.

The key to enjoying Balthasar's Odyssey is in having the proper expectations before you read the book. Based on my two-book selection I will say that Maalouf writes history like a novelist, and novels like a historian.

I can understand why so many readers were irritated. Maalouf does not tie up his loose ends. Unexplained motivations remain unexplained. Things are lost and never found again. Conversations remain unfinished and characters disappear, never to reemerge. If you are looking for a plot in a restorative Hollywood sense, you will not find it in this book.

What Balthasar's Odyssey is about, fundamentally, is communication. Balthasar is a Levantine seller of books and antiquities. His family came to the Levant from Genoa, and are famous for being foreigners-- "the last Genoese to come to this part of the world." The quest for the book "The Hundredth Name" takes him on an amazing journey to Constantinople, the Mediterranean, London and France-- all in the aid of finding an answer to a question that he is not even sure needs answering.

Along the way, he meets people from all over the world.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. Thurber on January 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
After having read nearly all of Maalouf's books, this is one of his best. (Samarkand remains my favorite.) Odyssey is an appropriate word in the title. The protaganist makes a journey and quest with real philosophical issues. This is a Candide story, with skepticism. It is hard to put the book down at night when reading. Balthasar faces many challenges both in his quest for the book, and in love, but also about life. The reader feels for his concerns. One of the nice details is that whenever he came to a town/city he looked for and visited the local booksellers, this was in 1666. His companions on his journey help him struggle with issues. This is a book about fate and life and well worth reading.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pat W Jusuf on March 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
For readers expecting Mediterranean adventures, intertwined with religiously related stories, look no further. This is a story of a Genoese book trader called Balthasar Embriaco or Baldassarro Embriaco who lived near a southwestern part of Mediterranea.

Christianity, Islam and Judaism were part of the everyday life in this plot set sometime between 1665-1667. The year 1666 was supposedly to be the year of the Beast. But don't expect anything as unconventional as the Da Vinci's Code by Dan Brown.

This novel was written in a diary style, which the "author", Balthasar, put his daily experiences and thoughts into his dairies. In fact "he" wrote four diaries during the span of this novel.

Summing it up: a romantic novel with a Mediteranean background, which the author exploited quite well, and voyages to London, Lisbon, Paris and other Mediterranean European countries. Mr. Maalouf has done an extremely detailed research prior to publishing it.

I enjoyed this book very much, though not the best novel I have read. Thus, a four star.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Iman Al Omrani on April 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
In Islam there are 99 names for God, but I do vaguely recall my Islamic Education teacher mentioning that there was indeed a hundredth name to God. It was only revealed to one of the prophets. And if my memory serves me correctly, to know the 100th name is to ensure one's salvation. That, with the fact that Maalouf is the author left me tingling with excitement until I flipped the hardcover to start reading.
Page 1: Wasting no time for the GRIP, Maalouf offers his set-up: "That strange book, appearing and disappearing, and all my fault. Old Idriss's death. And the journey I'm to set out on next Monday, despite my qualms." This is the story in summary.

In this tale of magic and mystery, of love and danger, the narrator Balthasar's ultimate quest is to find the secret that could save the world. Before the dawn of the apocalyptic 'Year of the Beast' in 1666, Balthasar Embriaco, a Genoese Levantine merchant, sets out on an adventure with his two nephews - the scholarly Jaber who revels in arcane literature "as if in the most delicious sweetmeats" and the womanising Habib - and the "wilful" Marta. Together this group of misadventurers travel, across the breadth of the civilized world, from Constantinople, through the Mediterranean, to London shortly before the Great Fire. Balthasar's urgent quest is to track down that copy of one of the rarest and most coveted books ever printed, Abu-Maher al-Mazandarani's The Unveiling of the Hidden Name' or called 'The Hundredth Name', its contents are thought to be of vital importance to the future of the world.
Though a religious sceptic, Balthasar finds the mounting hysteria over the predicted end of the world bewildering. But he is haunted by the book and what it contains.
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