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The Stone Woman Paperback – November 17, 2001

8 customer reviews
Book 3 of 5 in the Islam Quintet Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Ottoman Empire, known as the "sick man of Europe" in the 19th century, continues its slow, steady decline in the summer of 1899 as elderly Iskander Pasha (a descendant of a sultan's favorite courtier) and his well-born family gather at their seaside palace outside Istanbul. Ali, a well-known leftist activist in Britain, explores the complexities of the Ottoman mentality in his fifth outing, a colorful, sensual drama of families, sexual intrigue and rebellion. As the novel begins, Iskander suffers a stroke and loses his power of speech. Various members of the family tell their stories, interwoven with chapters transcribing confessions made to the "stone woman," a rock formation on the estate. Iskander has four children: Salman, the eldest son; Halil, a general in the army; Nilofer, the daughter whose dramatic life is most fully explored; and her married stepsister, Zeynep. Memed, Iskander's elder brother, and his lover, the Baron, also join the family. The plot coheres neatly as the stories interconnect: Nilofer married a Greek schoolteacher for whom her love cooled, leaving her miserable; when her husband is murdered, a victim of anti-Greek violence, she pursues a love affair with a barber's son. Salman is also unhappily married, to a woman in Egypt who turns against him with an almost psychopathic violence. Halil conspires with other generals in the army to overthrow the Ottoman government. The Baron, a trained Hegelian scholar, holds forth, pedantically, on the roots of Ottoman decay. Ali's epic combines the luxuriant pacing of the old-fashioned novel of ideas with the 20th-century relish for sexual detail to conjure up an almost Chekhovian milieu.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“... an Eastern Magic Mountain.”—London Review of Books

“A richly woven tapestry that, even before its completion, merits comparison with Naguib Mahfouz's celebrated Cairo Trilogy. A great work in progress.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Ali spins a web of tales that is as inventive and fantastical as the Arabian nights.”—The Times

“Tales of anguish, longing, lust and love all find their way to The Stone Woman. Ali paints a vivid picture of a fading world.”—New York Times Book Review

“This Chekhov-like scenario of intense emotion within a creaking social structure constructs a rich picture of history and the way we think about history.”—Times Literary Supplement

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Product Details

  • Series: The Islam Quintet
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (November 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859843646
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859843642
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,173,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Robert A. Saunders on January 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Stone Woman is an exquisite microcosm of life in a decayed empire. Tariq Ali's most recent segment of his Islamic Quartet is the best so far. The novel reads like an epic poem, but with all the drama and intrigue you would expect from a Latin American soap opera. The rich tapestry of one wealthy Ottoman family's story unravels through the clandestine reports made to a pagan statue near the summer residence of an exiled forbearer. The interconnecting details are told through a headstrong daughter who has returned home after a long absence. Ali's gifts are especially evident as he slowly unpeels the layers of this family's compelling and often-cursed history. Meanwhile, Ali wraps in the politics surrounding the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the so-called "Sick Man of Europe," on the eve of the Great War. The sometimes tedious subplot about the proto-revolutionary movement in the Empire is the novel's only weak point. As a student of Ottoman history, I found it interesting, but it takes away from the true brilliance of the novel. For fans of Ali's other two works on the often violent but always spellbinding confrontation between Christianity and Islam, this book will be a godsend. It is quite similar to Ali's first book in the series, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, in that it focuses on the life and times of patrician family. But this work deepens the focus on family and creates a vast array of memorable and believable characters where Pomegranate had only a few broadly drawn archetypes.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Randall Stickrod on August 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Who but Tariq Ali could have written a book like this? This is, first of all, a wonderful piece of literature, suffused with lyrical prose that befits its time and place and evokes the poetry and sensuality of the Middle East in the pre-modern world. And it is a vital piece of history, occasionally pedagogical (some might say to a fault, but I won't), an insider's view of the last days of the Ottoman empire in Turkey as the world prepares for the painful and violent birth of the twentieth century, a sensitive and cynical rendering of the corrupt,but feeble, state of affairs of the government of the Sultanate.
The narrative flows in a series of vignettes as the main characters, members of a proud aristocratic family, gather one fateful summer at the family estate outside Istanbul, and reveal their secrets to the"Stone Woman," a natural rock formation that has always been the keeper of family secrets. Ali's Turkey is full of surprises -- Sufi mystics who quote Balzac, nobles whose true lineage derives from Albanian shit-sweepers, gay uncle Memed and his intellectual Prussian lover of 50 years,desperate intrigues and dubious patrimonies. Through these the author teaches us of the follies of contemporary life in the Islamic world --the deadly hypocrisies of religious fanaticism, the ugliness and tragedy of ethnic and sectarian hatreds, the redeeming value of life-giving passion. And always, the eternal lessons of history. This is a marvelous book, as rich and complex and enchanting as an ancient Turkish carpet.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Maliha Afridi on October 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I went to the author's reading at Cody's bookshop in Berkelysome weeks ago. I had no knowledge of his work prior to this event. Heread well (was he ever an actor?) which encouraged me to buy thebook. I am a Muslim woman and I thought it was brave of a male authorto make his narrator a 24-year-old woman, but he succeeds verywell. One bit I found harrowing and that was Salman's life-story astold to The Stone Woman. Could Mariam have been so evil? I finishedthe book a week ago, but its images still haunt me. When I'verecovered from The Stone Woman I intend to read his other novels
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By M. A. ZAIDI on January 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A friend recommended this book, and i am so pleased that she did. What a novel i am absolutely swayed by it. Stone Woman my first of Tariq Ali, but certainly not the last. I read with initial resistance, but was lured to it from the first page. Mystically he draws the attention with the words which encapsulates the reader as a silent observer witnessing the developments in the palace of Pasha. One is drawn away from present times and transcends to the era of Ottomon empire's decadence.
I found the characters in this narration to have immense depth, which is delieved in part by confessions. Confessions are made to a small rock resembling a pagan goddess. Secrets are divulged to the goddess which sheds a light on the mental and emotional state of the character. Another luring aspect of this novel are the discussions by the characters. Rational, religion, philosophy and the creation of the future republic to be carved from Ottomon Empire are debated.
The narration has an expanse of seduction, rebellion, confessions, betrayal, rational, arguments, religion, treachery and conspiracy. It is to these reasons i find the text rich in prose.
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