90 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2001
Ali's "Shadow of the Pomegranate Tree" provides not only a great reading, but an extremely useful corrective to the general western misconception about Muslim society. His work while a fiction, has clearly been thoroughly researched. The openness, tolerance and cosmopolitanism of Islamic society during the Moorish period is clearly presented with accents and touches that ring true. While westerners are inclined to view Islam as a monolithic entity, Ali brings out the division and tension that existed within the societies of each period.
"Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree" is set in Spain after the fall of Granada. The story of the Banu Hudayl, a landed aristocratic family, the book explores the fateful decision that the Muslims of Spain had to make in the aftermath of the Reconquista. Shadows opens with the Muslim community having been recently shaken by the burning of their books on the order of Ximenes de Cisneros, Isabella's confessor. Sent to Granada to debate theology, Cisneros was verbally bested by the Muslim scholars. Defeated, he ordered all Muslim books to be destroyed two million manuscripts burned. "They set our culture on fire...The record of eight centuries was annihilated in one day", Umar the head of the Hudayl, laments. The only books to be saved from this wanton destruction were 300 medical and scientific works, spared by the petitions of Christian scholars who realized their superiority, and those books that the soldiers carrying them to the square discarded, judging the books' importance by their weight.
Cisneros, a man of the church is hell bent on destroying all vestiges of the Muslim society and culture in Granada. He sees force as the only way to win the conversion of the Muslims to Christianity, unlike his predecessor, who had given orders for the priests to learn Arabic and have Christian works translated. Yet his actions also have a personal element, as others whisper about his apparent Jewish features. Cisneros cruelty is interestingly contrasted to the outlook of Don Ignio, the civilian governor of the Granada region, and a life long friend of Umar's. Don's entrouge consisted of Jewish and Moors, and he tells Umar "For me a Granada without them is like a desert without Oasis. But I am on my own" When Umar comments that the current situation would never have arisen had the Moors used the same tactics that the Christian were now employing, Dons's response is: "Instead you attempted to bring civilization to the whole peninsula regardless of faith or creed. It was noble of you now you must pay the price."
The reason I find this an excellent read is because Ali treats western history with the same thoroughness and brutal honesty, he demolishes the myth that the episode was a victory of one sort or the other of western society, simply by incorporating facts into the narrative. The triumphalism and sheer blood thirstiness of the Christian west is underscored most clearly in "Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree".
62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 1998
I am quite surprised to discover the lack of attention which this book seems to have received. A highly respected political analyst and writer, (And a brilliant speaker. I have witnessed him speaking at the Oxford Union and he was as impressive as I had heard), Tariq Ali, in my opinion ventures successfully into the area of novel writing. My wife and I enjoyed the book quite a bit and it provoked many an interesting discussion. I would say that the highpoints are an impressive depiction of the progressive, liberal and still very much Muslim society which existed in Spain and its cultural and literary achievements. This is indeed a golden era of Spanish, Muslim and world history and the South of Spain still contains many a splendid remnant of this golden past. At various levels, Tariq Ali is very successful in showing what the last days of this great civilization must have been like and how brutal and narrow-minded the inquisition was after this period of great political harmony, intellectual and cultural synthesis and progress. Tariq Ali paints his characters with affection and care and most of the time they are highly believable. The sincere pathos he feels about this chapter of history comes through clearly in his depiction of various instances especially the burning of the Islamic libraries by the Christians who successfully went on to more or less erase the Muslim character of and contribution to Spanish history. A recent trip to the Mayan ruins in Mexico
revealed the brutality and wonton destruction of other cultures by the same people in other geographical contexts. Indeed the christian revival which transformed into the inquisition was one of the most repressive regimes in the history of mankind. Tariq Ali shows how a one-time magnificent Muslim culture, gets corrupted and sterile and loses out to a more vicious and narrow-minded zealotry. Anyone who has been to the south of Spain and has seen Moorish cities will empathize with the lament of the writer in this book. There are stylistically awkward instances in the novel but on the whole it is quite well written and evocative and covers an important point in history. I think that Tariq Ali should seriously consider continuing fiction writing. A worthwhile read which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the history of Islam, Moorish Spain, the Inquisition or even the broad category of good fiction coming from writers of South Asian origin.
55 of 63 people found the following review helpful
This small novel covers the late 14th Century and the attitudes of the Church that spawned the Inquisition. Many are aware of the damage to the Jews through the cruelty and torture of the Inqisitors. However, there was another target in Spain- the demolition of Moorish culture, particularly Granada. The most spectacular and infamous event in this history is the massive burning of all the great Muslim writings on mathematics, science and religion. Under the watchful eyes of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, a fanatical Inquisitor, Ximenes de Cisneros, attempts to thoroughly obliterate the Moorish culture. The book burning is merely the first step in the plan; Cisneros understands that if you can destroy history, traditions and freedom to speak the language, people are more easily subjugated. During this shameful period, the Catholic Church was relentless in its efforts to destroy those who refused conversion. Families who had passed their land and wealth from generation to generation were targeted for assimilation as "conversos" or put to death. We follow the lives of one such family as its members decide to either flee for safety, join forces to fight, or are brutally slain. The story moves slowly throughout, but historically, so did the times. I would like to have had more detail about the activities of the Inquisitors and the beliefs of the Muslims in Granada; the primary statement of belief is stated, "There is only one God and His name is Allah, and his prophet is Mohammed." At times it almost felt like reading a fable in the style the author used, an ancient story passed along in oral tradition. Unfortunately, it isn't just a fable. This is an area of great interest as belief systems affect modern as well as ancient attitudes.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 1999
Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree is about a small town in Moorish Spain, and the timeline up to its defeat by the Inquisition. The focus is on a large wealthy family, the mysteries behind family members, and how they change. Some characters seemed a bit unrealistic, but for the most part, each character was consistent. It was an enjoyable to read a historic book and feel that it was accurate to have been non-fiction. Tariq Ali showed that he is very talented and passionate about what he does.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2014
I bought this book, along with the Stone woman, with great excitement. Getting an inside look into a living, breathing Moorish Spain was certain to be a delight, more so with the pen of a writer as capable as Tariq Ali.
Certainly, he paints a vivid picture of Moorish Spain. That much i can say without doubt. However, after reading The Stone Woman, and then reading this book, it seems to me that Tariq Ali has a unhealthy obsession with narrating the most absurd of sexual escapades. I don't doubt for a second these escapades may have happened - especially in the Aristocratic class in a decaying Ottomon Empire - however, there's something to be said if the author can only grab my attention by the most fantastic of marital affairs.
There's simply no depth to the characters in this novel. I can't connect with any of them. Maybe i'm spoiled by the profound relationships and immense emotional depth in the writings of Khaled Hosseini, maybe that is the reason why this novel simply fails to satiate me.
As a history buff, this book does its just incredibly well in recreating Moorish Spain in its last days. As a novel trying to retain my interest throughout with living, breathing characters whom i care about, i'm disappointed to say, this novel simply fails to deliver.
I would recommend The Stone Woman, but this particular novel, i would not.
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2005
I enjoyed this book most for its historical value, second for its introduction to the Moorish culture in Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. For instance, as a dieter, I noticed how often they talked about vegetables as culinary delicacies; they served them to honored guests (tomatoes laced with herbs and spices, that kind of thing). I guessed the Moors must have been thin and thought about how modern Americans view and consume food (mindlessly, quickly, etc.). But that's just one tiny aspect of what I reflected on in the book. There was also their bathing rituals, their family relationships, the use of names that reflected ancestry, a whole host of interesting tidbits.
The anti-Christianity was to be expected. The Christians were destroying their culture and killing them off, whether we like to remember that or not. Should they have *liked* us for that? Come on. Our religion was foreign and strange to them and--of course--our massacres were evil. Horrific. A holocaust.
The only reason I didn't give this 5 stars was that so many points of view were represented that I found it hard to identify with individual characters.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2000
A wealthy granadan family looks to its past as it faces the uncertainty of life under Christian rule with the recent conquest of spain. Intertwining stories of love and valour overlie the background of the family's unwillingness to change to the new regime, and their current powerlessness. The stories are poignant, the characters fully fleshed and the backdrop of Moorish Spain is richly depicted. A must read.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2009
The premise of the book has been thoroughly described by other reviewers. I will only write about why this book was important to me. I am Greek and since Greece has been under Muslim rule for 400 years in the past and currently still has disputes with Turqey you can imagine that my knowledge and views about Islamic culture are biased at the least. Still what a great read and eye-opener this book has been for me. Especially in times like these when religious fanatism is high and rising, and certainly not only in the east, it is essential for each to learn as much as one can about the other. And boy did I learn a lot. I learned that Muslims are very much responsible for advances in mathematics, medicine and astronomy. I learned that as conquerors they were agressive sure but not destroyers of everything. I learned that muslim women at that time were respected and entitled to their opinions. I learned that I need to learn more, read more. I am ashamed to say that this has been the first book I ever read by a muslim writer but thankfully it won't be the last.
17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2001
A poignant account of an aristocratic muslim family in Moorish Spain, Tariq Ali spins a brilliant tale of empires lost and heroism re-discovered. One of my personal heroes from his days as a student leader in the 60's, Ali is as always brilliant in his penmanship. I was introduced to his writings by my father, a close personal friend of the author and Iv been hooked ever since. One of the very best accounts you could find of Moorish Spain and the end of an empire that gave the world such architectural masterpieces like the Al-Hambra.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2011
This dramatic family saga evokes a past which has been hidden from history. The year is 1500, eight years after the fall of Granada. In the village of al-Hudayl, a carpenter, has carved a chess set for the 10th birthday of Yazid Bin Umar. The black queen is a caricature of Queen Isabella; the white king resembles Yazid's great-grandfather, a renowned Muslim knight. In times like these, even a chess set is dangerous. Yazid's father, a wealthy and enlightened Muslim patriarch, fears for his family and their future. His uncle Miguel, a Christian convert and now Bishop of Cordoba, is urging him to convert - thus saving the family property - and also to give his 17-year-old daughter, Hind, in marriage to Miguel's son. Independent Hind, however, is determined to wed the man of her choice; her headstrong elder brother prefers death to enslavement by the Catholic church; and young Yazid, the family favorite, plays with his chess pieces and misses nothing. Here brought to life is the turbulent period following eight centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula. In this depiction of the medieval world we see book-burnings and battles; meet preachers, bandits, lovers, poets, orthodox believers, cynical skeptics, bawdy cooks, family retainers - all living on the edge of a civilization about to be engulfed.
Teachers/Librarians: this is a wonderful language arts piece to complement 7th grade social studies unit on Islam. If your school is "doing" The Medieval Banquet in the Alhambra Palace, this is your language arts piece, or for an easier read or for younger students, try Seven Daughters And Seven Sons. I have read aloud the prologue to Shadows. . while dramatizing the burning of the books - no one will ever forget it. Try it with your students. A week-long teachers program at Harvard had teachers in groups (7th and 9th grades) reading this and discussing ways to use it with their students!