Customer Reviews: Leo Africanus
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on March 12, 2003
The story of Leo Africanus or Hassan Al Wazan is a truly fascinating tale. Amin Maalouf has done an outstanding job in creating a very readable largely biographical work of a remarkable man. While a fiction there are no historical inaccuracies and a tremendous degree of accuracy in corroborating the event of this magnificent work with actual history.
A wonderful aspect of Leo Africanus is the pitfalls it avoided. Amin Maalouf did not attempt to paint a picture that support a certain vision of history or advances a certain agenda. This is a common theme in modern day work on history and especially historical fiction. The one agenda that Amin Maalouf may have had in mind and advanced beautifully is that the world is full of wonderful people; they come in different religions, different colors and different ethnicity and they speak different languages. The world is also full of many awful people from different religions, cultures and colors.
Reading Leo Africanus one feels a direct witness to the fall of Andalusia to the Spanish and its aftermath, the fall of Cairo to the Ottomans and its aftermath and the fall of Rome to the Lutherans. Globalization and the "global village" and easy travel may have made the world smaller in our time, for Hassan Al Wazan too, nearly 600 years ago traveling the globe and fitting in was a way of life.
Exceptional historical and cultural education, beautifully written and well translated.
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on February 29, 2000
The book's characters are from the late 1400s, but you would think Mr. Maalouf interviewed and/or lived with each of them. His character development is fantastic. His book gives the reader a different perspective on Islamic life than one tends to get from today's media. You'll hear Muslims described in appropriate human terms (good and bad) as opposed to the sterotypical and fanatical terms we often hear today.
It reads like a history lesson, a travel essay, and a novel wrapped up into one. I suggest it to anyone planning or completing a trip to Southern Spain or Northern Africa. Hearing the Alhambra Palace described as a place of life, commerce and government instead of ruin was a treat. Being able to visualize the rooms, fountains and greenery with each line in the book was even better.
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on August 18, 2000
While most novels written in the West today seem to be about baby-boomers searching for happiness amidst material wealth and spiritual emptiness, here is a novel that contains journeys to faraway lands, exciting adventure, and real historical significance. This novel is the fictional tale of a real muslim traveller in the Mediterranean region. It begins right before 1492, when that Italian sailed west, but also when the Moors were booted out of Spain in the reconquest. So we the readers are placed in a particular time that reverberates with historical significance. Traveller Leo Africanus goes on to make contact with a great many cultures and societies, from Muslim to Christian to pagan Berbers, and finds that the world is a turmoil of business and trade, religious intolerance, political manoevering, travel to beautiful foreign lands, and even some family troubles. Sounds familiar. A fun and topical read that may not be shakespeare but hey its a lot better than more ethan canin stories!
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on December 6, 1999
I normally do not read novels these days because so much of my time is taken up with other studies, but I am very glad that I read this one. I could have read 360 more pages. It was never boring. It follows the life of Leo Africanus year by year for 40 years. And what a life! I don't see how anyone with any interest at all in good historical fiction could not find a lot to enjoy here. And if there was ever a book that should be made into a long movie or a miniseries, this is it! I intend to read every work Mr. Maalouf has written.
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on November 17, 2001
Amin Maalouf tells the life story of Hasan al-Wazzan, a middle ages traveller extraordinaire. Known as Leo, he grew up in Granada in a mixed community, only to be thrown out, along with all the Jews, during the purges. He then travelled to north Africa where his life followed many twists and turns, some good and some tragic. There are tales of wealth, abject poverty, slavery and high position within the caliph courts. His life was a kaleidoscope of styles and standards - of religions and travelling partners. Mid-way he found himself in Rome, a Christian and papal emissary, only to return to north Africa and convert back to Islam once again. No state of mind or situation ever lasted for long.
Leo the African had a fantastic life and Amin Maalouf has written a fantastic story around it. His style is effortless and the descriptions of sixteenth century Middle East are teasing enough to get you looking at the maps and travel guides again. You'll love this book. I did, and I'd recommend everyone with wanderlust to read it.
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on January 21, 2007
Hasan, also called Jean-Leon de Medici, also called Leo Africanus is the main character of this book. Hasan is a man beset by death, war and plague, and forced to leave everything to start anew in strange lands, among strangers.
The story takes place in 15th century Europe, where Hasan lives among Arabs, Jews and Christians.

The story is told with great humility, by an old man, Hasan, reflecting about the forty years he had lived in four cities around the Mediterranean: Granada, where he was born, Fez, where he faces misfortune, Cairo, where he recovers and finally Rome, where he meets the Pope.

Amin Maalouf is a gifted writer. Words fail me when I try to evaluate a book that needs no praising. No amount of flattery would make it any more pleasing to read. I still feel the same excitement every time I read it.

It was a great story, written with a scholarly flair that would please even the most demanding academician. This is proof that you don't need to be an intellectual to enjoy first class literature.
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on November 21, 2005
If you enjoy cozy armchair travel not only in time and space, Maalouf's fascinating tale invites to experience life in late fifteenth-century Europe and Africa as if you were Leo Africanus' sibbling and life-time traveller. From the dusk of Islamic Spain to the height of Christian Rome, the reader follows in the adventurous steps of the tireless traveller, from birthing and circumcision to funeral rites, capturing engrossing scenes of brutal persecution of Moslems in Christian Spain and wondrous appreciation of the Moslem savant in Rome, his marriage to a Jewish-born convert Maddalena, the story moves all readers with time to appreciate an old-fashioned, lingering prose of a quietly erudite writer.
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on August 7, 2002
Aaaah that story... those characters?? I'd be a fool if I didn't compare Leo's times with our times today.. How they lived Islam then and How we live it today. This book is a story and a half, but if you're looking for a moral in this book, look elsewhere my friend.. This book is unique and is on a class of it's own...This is the bedtime story you've always wanted your parents to read you when they were tucking you in bed..
Have you ever woken up in morning not knowing where life is going to take you.. Have you ever woken up one day and found out that life is your driver and you're the passenger in the backseat? You're here today.. you're somewhere else tomorrow..
And then, one day, when you're fixing your dentures, you look at yourself in the mirror and think.. My life?? My life so far has been..
This story is life, as we know it...
We don't look for morals in life.. They just hit us as we go.. We choose our road and we're on our way to seek the unknown, discover new places, new faces and above all, we discover ourselves, our soul within. Leo's journey is our journey, because at the end of the day, when we trip on that bump in the middle of the road, we choose to either stand up again, wipe the dirt off and start marching down that road again, or sit and cry at our failures. We develop into our own characters.. our own individuality..
Maalouf has intricately described but one man's journey through life. He has painstakingly tossed the settings, the times, and the places in the right proportion for this recipe. An Arab-Muslim would know that some of the descriptions, be it from traditions or ceremonies, differ tremendously from today and yet some remain the same, while some simply don't exist.
A history Lesson?? Indeed, who ever paid attention in history class? We're talking about the late 1400s, and we're not talking American History here, try North African or maybe Italian history.. The Fall of Granada is just one among a few..
A description on Islam? Do not take this book as a solid description on Islam, it is merely an extract of it. An extract does not do a religion THAT vast any justice. If you want to learn more about that I'd suggest a book on its history and never a story that describes it through its characters...
It's a book that truly draws the reader within. Quenching his/her thirst with each and every line.. It's a book that you wouldn't want to put down, because it's a lovely adventure of hardship, love, war, travel and family.
What's going to happen? What is he going to do? Is he going to survive this? Questions like these, you'll find yourself asking as you're reading...
The sad thing is we seldom seem to ask ourselves those same questions. We concentrate only on our footsteps without looking ahead at the horizon, living for today and not for tomorrow...
Life in the eyes of... Leo, Maalouf, you and me.
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on March 17, 2016
Difficult to describe Leo's story in the usual terms attached to modern novels. It is historical fiction whose real life hero is an amazing Muslim of the 15th-16th century. We are so used to this period told from perspective of Western Europe with characters from Henry VIII to Luther and Ferdinand & Isabella to Michelangelo.How little we have learned from the lessons of history. This is a story of religious wars, atrocities committee o n both sides in the name of religion, political intrigue, government corruption, and the migration of thousands displaced because of them.
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on September 7, 2005
It took me a few chapters to get into this book but once I did I could not put it down; I had to know what was going to happen to Leo the African! This book is incredibly well written and takes the reader on an amazing journey through another time and place. I read this book on the recomendation of a friend who is obtaining a Masters degree in Middle Eastern studies (this book was required reading for one of her classes) and I will be forever thankful for the suggestion. I love historical novels and this is by far one of the best I have ever read. I was completely pulled into the story. Amin Maalouf has an incredible ability to make the story come alive. You truly come to care for the characters. An amazing read!
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