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The Ruby in Her Navel: A Novel of Love and Intrigue in the 12th Century [Kindle Edition]

Barry Unsworth
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Set in the Middle Ages during the brief yet glittering rule of the Norman kings, The Ruby in Her Navel is a tale in which the conflicts of the past portend the present. The novel opens in Palermo, in which Latin and Greek, Arab and Jew live together in precarious harmony. Thurstan Beauchamp, the Christian son of a Norman knight, works for Yusuf, a Muslim Arab, in the palace’s central finance office, a job which includes the management of blackmail and bribes, and the gathering of secret information for the king.
But the peace and prosperity of the kingdom is being threatened, internally as well as externally. Known for his loyalty but divided between the ideals of chivalry and the harsh political realities of his tumultuous times, Thurstan is dispatched to uncover the conspiracies brewing against his king. During his journeys, he encounters the woman he loved as a youth; and the renewed promise of her love, as well as the mysterious presence of an itinerant dancing girl, sends him on a spiritual odyssey that forces him to question the nature of his ambition and the folly of uncritical reverence for authority.
With the exquisite prose and masterful narrative drive that have earned him widespread acclaim, Barry Unsworth transports the reader to a distant past filled with deception and mystery, and whose racial, tribal, and religious tensions are still with us today.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Enticing titles are typical of Unsworth (Sacred Hunger); his gleam, this time out, is dimmed by the setting. Thurstan Beauchamp, royal purveyor of pleasures and shows in the 12th-century Kingdom of Sicily, laboriously narrates his daily rounds, which involve delicate low-level negotiations and machinations. Four pages are devoted to the sale of three mules, in language as artificially antique and exotic as it is languorous. Relief comes in the sudden appearance of Lady Alicia, who had been Thurstan's love back when he was on a track to knighthood. Bittersweet reflections on his thwarted destiny provide some of the most affecting moments. But the lady is too good to be true, and she proves central to a vile plot in which Thurstan betrays a friend. Perfidy brings epiphany; Thurstan realizes Alicia could not have seduced his soul had he not invested her with the power. And Alicia is not the "Lady" of the title: that distinction belongs to Nesrin, the smolderingly beautiful belly dancer whose name appears on the first page, but whose story is teasingly withheld until further in. It is she who provides the inspiration for Thurstan's self-exploration, burnishing a mind of which we learn rather too much. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

It is 1149, and all is not well in Norman Sicily. The Second Crusade's disastrous failure has turned opinion against Palermo's Muslims, but King Roger's magnanimity toward his multicultural populace keeps the land in harmony--or so it seems. Thurstan Beauchamp, a Norman Christian, works at the government office overseeing finances, accounting, and bribes. Still smarting at the loss of his inheritance, he jumps at the chance to reconnect with Alicia, his noble childhood sweetheart. But what of Nesrin, the Anatolian belly dancer who stirs his lust? The undercurrents of political and romantic intrigue prove too much for naive, idealistic Thurstan, whose chivalrous inner core begins to crack as he travels on missions for his king. Unsworth's subtle prose conjures up an authentically realized medieval world in which one's nationality and religion overshadow everything, and peace is only an illusion. The twisting plotline, heavy with foreshadowing, conceals as much as it reveals in this heartrending tale, which can be read either as an exceptional historical novel or a modern parable on the dangers of blind patriotism. Sarah Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1522 KB
  • Print Length: 413 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B00FF0ANRA
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (February 4, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,466 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barry Unsworth Fans Rejoice! October 24, 2006
Spoiler free:

Another great read by a master craftsman. Barry Unsworth refuses to dumb down his books for publishers seeking blockbuster historical fiction novels--novels that read more like screenplays than literature (e.g. Gates of Fire and Pompei). Those of you who were enthralled by the tormented protagonists of Unsworth's Sacred Hunger, The Rage of the Vulture and Pascali's Island will most likely have no need for a bookmark for Ruby: you'll read this one straight through in a couple of days like I did. And you'll be pleasantly surprised by the ending...such a different fate awaits this book's narrator than the protagonists of the three abovementioned stories. I agree with John Julius Norwich, however, (in his review in the Guardian) that the title of the book is really horrible. And to the publisher Nan A. Talese: What was so wrong with the British version of the cover? That artwork--done in the style of a 12th century illuminated manuscript--is so much more appropriate than the let's-make-it-look-like-Possession--cover put out for the U.S. market. N. Smith, author of Stolen from Gypsies.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Torturous politics, tortured hero January 20, 2007
This literate, fascinating novel takes place in the turbulent Mediterranean world of the 12th century. It's a chaotic time, as Muslims and Christians skirmish for territorial advantage and the borders between the Muslim and Christian worlds constantly shift. In the kingdom of Sicily, Muslims and Christians live in uneasy alliance under the rule of King Roger, a tolerant monarch whose public goal is an open and peaceful society. But the ambitions of others always undermine such efforts, and the ambitions of Unsworth's hero are no exception. Thurstan Beauchamp is a Norman knight who is forced to serve under a high Muslim official in the King's government. He's the purveyor of the King's amusements, a role that sends him far and wide to find new entertainment for his King. Thurstan has never gotten over the loss of his chance to become a true knight in service to the King, and Thurstan's naive view of his King as a shining ruler leads him to become the unwitting pawn of the powers at court.

Nothing is as it seems, and Unsworth slowly reveals twists and turns of plot in a way that reminded me of Umberto Eco. It's inevitable that Thurstan is tempted into betraying his mentor, the victim of his own failed ambitions of knighthood. As it turns out, Thurstan has been the one betrayed, but luckily the sultry Nesrin presents him with an escape.

The title and cover of this book are a bit misleading, as Nesrin is a minor player in the drama until the very end. Marketers had the final say, no doubt. I'm a big fan of Unsworth, but in this story I thought he was a bit too enamoured of his clever plot, and Thurstan is hard to like. But I found the Christian/Muslim theme particularly relevan--neither side comes off all that well, and the description of the recent disastrous Crusade was gruesome. Unsworth is a serious literate writer--"Ruby" is not his best, but it's well worth it for Unsworth fans.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Famous for his strong historical novels containing well developed themes, Barry Unsworth here focuses on life in 1149 in Palermo, Sicily. Power struggles between east and west have left King Roger of Sicily hard pressed to maintain his throne. The Bishop of Rome and the Pope do not recognize his rule, and both Conrad Hohenstaufen (ruler of the west) and Manuel Comnenus (ruler of the east) are threatening to invade Sicily to secure their own power. Though Palermo has always been a tolerant, multi-ethnic community, a faction promoting a unified Christian front has been making false accusations against Muslims, Jews, and other "outsiders" to secure their own power.

Thurstan Beauchamp, who narrates this tale, is a young Christian, the son of a Norman knight and a Saxon mother. Thurstan works in the Diwan of Control, the central financial office at the palace, where his patron is Yusuf Ibn Mansur, a politically savvy and honest official, who will help him become influential if Thurstan can only avoid the pitfalls of the numerous factions and their plots. Traveling throughout Europe as "Purveyor of Pleasures and Shows," Thurstan finds and hires a group of five Yazidis, including Nesrin, a belly dancer extraordinaire, to come to Palermo to perform for the king. His attraction to Nesrin, however, becomes complicated when on the same trip he also reconnects with Lady Alicia, his great (lost) love from the past. Now a widow of considerable wealth, Lady Alicia returns Thurstan's feelings.

Unsworth's inclusion of fine details of twelfth century life give vibrancy to his story.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
My first reaction to Barry Unsworth's newest gem--a masterpiece that moved me instantly--was to turn back to the first page, wanting to reread the book and savor it at a new level. The plot is well illuminated by previous reviews, detailing the complex facets of a medieval society gripped by lust for power and wealth, of noble factions, with the newly-emerging Roman Catholic Church reaching for the helm. I leave that aside for other considerations.

Like Noble M. Smith before me, I read the book in two sittings, occasionally with my finger on the lines burdened by excessive detail of every day life in Palermo, or the convoluted contemporary politics, which--yes--do remind us much of our own times. While tripping over every foreshadowing, I wondered why such a literary genius needs to do that in a story that reads for a while like an armchair-time-travel rather than a fiction with a real plot. One answer arrives in the last fifty-or-so pages, finding me screaming at the gullible Thurstan Beauchamp to wake up and become the true white knight he so wished to become and he does--in a surprisingly frenetic finale.

Yet, Unsworth moves the reader far beyond the plot burdened by more names and plot-twists than the number of bees would settle on Saracen sweet cake and he does it by his venerable insight. This point reminds me of the setting of Verdi's Don Carlos in sixteenth-century Spain and the mysterious death of Prince Philip as a subterfuge for the nasty politics in nineteenth-century Paris, the original opera setting. Like Verdi, Unsworth is a political commentator pointing to the peace in our own world as a fragile entity. That thought reminds me of the passage in which the surface of the pool broken by Thurstan's hand becomes a place of cheating images he years to abandon.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars My son recommended this book to me
My son recommended this book to me. I couldn't believe it, so went on to read it myself and found it a delightful book full of insights to the time period that I had never... Read more
Published 5 months ago by CarolynQWilson
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Okay but not as good as Sacred Hunger and its sequel, The Quality of Mercy
Published 7 months ago by Elyse Bogart
3.0 out of 5 stars Intrigues and conspiracies surround 11th century Sicily's King Roger.
Set in 11th century Sicily, the main character is Thurston, the Purveyor of Pleasures (basically entertainment director) and purse bearer to King Roger. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Diane L. Lybbert
4.0 out of 5 stars Goodread!
I like it very much. I read it in no time and in the process learned a little bit about a epoch I didn't have a clue about it. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Literate Historical Novel
The protagonist is unsympathetic but that is the only negative in this novel. Barry Unsworth's prose is superb and the setting fascinating. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Tropical Gal
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading
A deep and satisfying plot.
A lot of strange names to remember. A glossary would have helped a lot. But I will probably read it again and jot them down as I go along
Published 16 months ago by Sherry Calvert
4.0 out of 5 stars The perils of religion are timeless
Barry Unsworth is an author constantly seeking new areas and new characterisation,never content to repeat past successes. Read more
Published 17 months ago by N. C. Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK!
I am super hooked on this book. Barry Unsworth is fantastic. As good as all the others of his I've read.
Published 21 months ago by Samuel J. Schor
4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Read
This historical novel revives beautifully a largely forgotten period of History: Palermo in the 12th century when the Normans had recently invaded the island and society was still... Read more
Published on July 18, 2012 by Claude Nougat
1.0 out of 5 stars A novel of boredom in the 21st century
I can't even get past the first several chapters. The writing is not bad, but you could care less about the characters. Read more
Published on June 13, 2012 by Kathleen M. Newman
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