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The Book of Saladin: A Novel Paperback – November 17, 1999

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The Book of Saladin: A Novel + Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (The Islam Quintet) + The Stone Woman
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Product Details

  • Series: The Islam Quintet
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (November 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859842313
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859842317
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Tariq Ali has been a British national treasure for almost five decades. Revolutionary, writer, broadcaster, filmmaker, polemicist--fighter in the street--and general all-round trouble-maker (in the nicest possible sense), he's been them all, and usually at the same time. Since 1990 Ali has also worked in fiction, firstly with Redemption, and now with a planned quartet of historical novels, of which The Book of Saladin is the second. (The first was the award-winning Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree.)

Ali's passion for life, and his humor, are found all over this latest work, which is set in the 12th century--with eerily prescient echoes of modern times. It shows us the conflict between Christian and Islamic civilizations set to a sometimes bawdy, sometimes brutal background where all of life is in flux. As in his previous novel, Ali shows the depth and breadth of his learning and humanity on every page. Like his central character, Saladin, or Salah-al-Din (the Kurdish liberator of Jerusalem), he has been a fighter of many causes, a maker of alliances, who has made an impact on the world around him. Unlike his hero, Tariq Ali has never been a Sultan, or a warrior, except a class one, of course. But between them--Ali and his warrior king--readers can discover much of both history and contemporary life in the melting pot of world religion. --Robin Hunt, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A very different novel from Fear of Mirrors reviewed above, Ali's earthy, lusty saga about the fall of Jerusalem to Muslim forces in 1187 rewrites Eurocentric history by focusing on the historical figure Salah al-Din (better known as Saladin), the Kurdish upstart who used his position as sultan of Egypt and Syria to retake the Holy City from Crusaders. Through Saladin's confidences told to a fictive character?Isaac ibn Yahub, his Jewish scribe, who narrates the story?we not only learn of the sultan's marital woes (his favorite wife is having a lesbian affair with another concubine), we also view the Crusades from a non-Christian point of view. In this fiercely lyrical second installment of a projected tetralogy (following Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree), Ali exposes deep wounds between Christian, Muslim and Jewish civilizations that have yet to heal. A digressive arabesque weaving tales of political intrigue, gay and straight love, betrayal, cross-dressing, rape, assassination and crimes of passion, his tale ripples with implicit parallels to our age: Saladin prepares for "the mother of all battles"; his army wages a holy war to liberate Palestine; the Muslim nations are bitterly divided into mutually hostile factions. Some may feel Ali takes liberties too freely, as when Ibn Yahub walks in on his adulterous wife having sex with Maimonides, the celebrated Jewish philosopher; yet, throughout, the main characters sustain a fruitful dialogue on life after death, history, the oppression of women and the nature of spiritual and romantic love.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

A wonderfully readable book of an important figure and time in history.
Douglas S. Wood
The major characters are well drawn, and much of the reasoning seems entirely plausible.
Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Highly recommended, superbly crafted, entertaining reading by a master author.
Midwest Book Review

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By 3rdeadly3rd on September 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
Tariq Ali's "The Book of Saladin" is the second in his "quintet" about Islam. Don't let that put you off, though, as there is no set order to read the series in - no characters carry over from one book to the next and the continuity throughout is in fact the relationship between Islam and other religions during times of upheaval.

As the name suggests, "The Book of Saladin" is about that famous adversary of the Crusaders, the Kurdish Yusuf Salah-ad-din Ibn Ayyub who founded the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt. The basis of this novel is that Saladin has hired a Jewish writer to record his life and times as he leads the battle to re-take Jerusalem from the "Franj" (Crusaders, one of the many Arabic words used in the book and explained in the glossary).

The reader is therefore treated to a series of stories-within-stories, and knowing Ali's sense of humour (he is an electric public speaker) the parallel to the "Arabian Nights" is probably more than a fortuitous coincidence. Our narrator leads his own life over the years of his acquaintance with Saladin, along with its attendant highs and lows while recording Saladin's memories and hearing stories from his loyal retainers and members of his harem. All of these strands combine and separate in various ways to create a narrative experience quite hard to describe in words.

While the novel ends on a somewhat pessimistic note, this is probably only to be expected, as this was hardly a glorious time for either side involved in the conflict.

While certain characters - particularly Maimonides, who makes a cameo appearance - suffer from being relatively two-dimensional, the central characters are all eminently believable.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By M. A. ZAIDI on February 12, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tariq Ali's "The Book of Saladin" is a rich and teeming chronicle set in the twelfth-century Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem. The Book of Saladin is a fictional memoir of Saladin, the Kurdish liberator he Muslim leader during the Crusades, was one of the best known figures of the Middle Ages. The West accepted him as a worthy opponent; Islam was indebted to him for the recovery of Jerusalem. Ali brilliantly weaves a fiction tale around the historical figure Saladin.
Saladin grants permission to Ibn Yakub, his jewish scribe to walk to his wife and retainers so that he may portray a complete picture of his memories. A series of interconnected stories follow, tale brimming over with warmth, earthly humour and passions in which ideals clash with realities and dreams are confounded by desires. At the heart of the novel is an affecting love affair between the Sultans favorite wife, Jamila and the beautiful Halima.
The novel charts the course of Saladin as Sultan of Egypt and Syria and follows him as he prepares in alliance with his Jewish and Christian subjects to take Jerusalem back from the Crusaders.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a satisfying novel, told, despite its exotic settings, in sparse prose carrying a ring of authenticity reminiscent at times of Naguib Mahfouz. The book deals in complex and subtle people who question the nature of the relationship between body and soul and ponder the purposes of war, not in easy steretypes or generalisations, even in an area which has been traditionally replete with them. It is illuminationg to have the Saladin story told by a writer who has immersed himself in the 'other side'. Tariq Ali's novel creates an authentic-seeming court, full of intrigue, dominated by a man who is charismatic yet not a hero of romance, a rather hesitant, limping figure, a Sultan whose preferred diet is soup and beans. In Saladin's entourage are strong and intelligent women, the Sultana Jamila and her female lover, and their story is interwoven with that of the Sultan's public life. It may be controversial to assign such dominance to the women in a harem, but these are characters in a convincing story with a reality beyond that of historical cliche.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Two thumbs up, Tariq Ali ! This is a story , wonderfully told,of Salah al Din's maturation, comming to power , becoming acharismatic leader and finally , conquering Al Kadisiya (Jerusalem) from the hands of Crusades in 1187. Among other colourful characters is the Sultana Jamila, extremely educated, intelligent and enlightened, unlike all the rest of the women in the harem. Respected and admired for her virtues, Jamila questions the surpressed position of women in the world of Islam. The story is told by an outsider - a Jew in the service of the Sultan. A typical sympathetic scribe, he observes and listens attentively , and talks little. In the heart of the novel is the sad tragedy of muslims being so quarelsome among themselves, and being unable to unite against the enemy when the need arises....Salah Al Din is up to this day an awe-inspiring and much admired for his military and princely virtues character in the Muslim world...HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS NOVEL TO ALL ,ESPECIALLY THOSE INTERESTED IN THE HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE EAST.!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Stuart W. Mirsky on May 10, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Taking a leaf from the Middle Eastern story teller's practice of unfolding stories within stories, this one offers a scribe's eye view of the rise to power and the career of one of history's most fascinating leaders, Salah al-din (Saladin to Westerners), the Kurdish leader who rose to be Sultan of the Arabic world in the wake of the Crusades, becoming one of the Crusaders' most noble and notable opponents. The antagoinst and, indeed, the very antithesis of the blunt and often brutal Richard the Lionhearted, that famed English Crusader, Saladin successfully pushed back the European incursions on Palestinian shores and faced down Richard and his royal cronies thereafter, concluding an honorable truce which allowed Richard to go home to England without his tail hanging too obviously between his legs. This is all told through the eyes of a medieval Jewish scribe, recruited by Saladin to write his memoirs. In the process we hear about the sexual dalliances of the harem and Saladin's court and get to see the Kurdish Sultan in his medieval Muslim milieu, besieged by the machinations of the lesser men who surround him. There is an odd abstractness to it all; this tale's not very vivid and is sometimes nearly colorless in its narrative. And there is no plot to speak of, merely the back and forth required to tell us who Saladin was and what happens after our scribe joins him. Time passes almost vaguely and we are absorbed in a series of anecdotal tales and tales within tales, a la the Arabian Nights, so that, in the end, one doesn't have a clear picture of all that may have been happening in this time and place. And yet this is a worthy antidote for those who have been surfeited with the heroism and glory of the European Crusades.Read more ›
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