From Publishers Weekly
Irwin's reissued 1983 classic combines the genres of travelogue, fable, dream narrative, novel and confessional into one beguiling whole. Balian, an English spy hired by France to go on a fact-finding mission to Cairo in 1486, is surprised when one of his fellow travelers is kidnapped. He is even more surprised when he is afflicted by the "Arabian Nightmare": he begins to have very confusing dreams and wakes up bleeding from the nose and mouth. A mysterious figure named the Father of the Cats claims to want to help Balian but does he? To make matters worse, there are rumors that a vicious murderer is on the loose in Cairo. Every attempt Balian makes to leave the city is foiled, as one supposedly well-intentioned figure after another leads him into the ever-deepening maze of the city's underworld, populated by whores, laughing dervishes, talking apes and lepers who all weave their respective spells with distinct power. Moving gracefully through a boggling number of reversals, stories-within-stories, and false solutions, the narrative winds its way toward a conclusion as baffling and profound as everything that has preceded it. There are plenty of moments when the story becomes too confusing to follow but this is clearly part of the plan. A work of fiction with the subtle, intoxicating architecture of a poem, this cult favorite clearly deserves renewed exposure and consideration. B&w illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This fascinating, rather complex first novel by a former medieval historian can be read on several levels. On the surface it is the picaresque tale of a young English pilgrim's trials and tribulations in late-15th-century Cairo. Recruited as a spy by the French king, he finds himself, or believes himself to be, pursued both during his waking and sleeping hours by an odd assortment of characters, from an old Egyptian magician to a leperous Christian knight. But the story is also a philosophic fantasyan exploration into the nature of dreams and storytelling and the ways in which they interface. Or is it really a journey into the schizophrenic mind where phantoms replace reality? While earthy and often quite humorous, the novel's intricacy is likely to put off the general reader. Those who like a challenge, however, will find their perseverance amply rewarded. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.