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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2002
Where is the manuscript of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyaat? A once empty book made out of the white mulberry branches' pulp according to an old Chinese recipe. A blank book that was given to Khayam by a "qadi" who recognized his genius as a poet.
"Whenever a verse takes shape in your mind, or is on the tip of your tongue, just hold it back. Write it down on these sheets." The Rubaiyaat were born in Samarkand in 1072 A.D. The manuscript is claimed to have vanished on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
Maalouf spins fact and fiction and creates a fascinating tale of 11th-century Persia, with assassins and intrigues, and returns to it 900 years later through the eyes of an American searching for the manuscript.
This has got to be one of the more engaging historical fiction books I have ever read. Maalouf did an excellent and very thorough research. The text flows very nicely and the language is exquisite. It is what I call a rich book... A tale of war, politics, friendship, and betrayal. A tale of poetry and philosophy and of course history. It was such a sumptuous read, I was devouring all the details about the places such as Samarkand, Isfahan, Tabriz and about the characters Khayyam of Nishapur, Nizam al Mulk, and Hassan Sabbah, the founder of the Order of the Assassins, among many others.
Two exotic tales of romance between Khayyam and Jahan; and centuries later
between Benjamin and his Persian Princess, Shireen.
The suspenseful adventure tale of finding the manuscript is interwoven with a love story between Benjamin and Shireen and concludes with a final verse uttered. I think it best describes this book...
"You ask what is this life so frail, so vain
`Tis long to tell, yet will I make it plain
`Tis but a breath blown from the vastly deeps,
And then blown back to those same deeps again."
Maalouf kept me intrigued and thirsty for more and more. I couldn't quench my thirst any better that when I read the final words " Today I wonder: Did she exist?" So poignant, so beautiful right up to the last page.
I highly recommend this book and.. to the readers who are thinking of reading it...Here's a taste..
"Travelers are too great a rush these days, in a rush to arrive - whatever it takes. But you do not arrive only at your destination. At every step of the journey you arrive somewhere and with every step you can discover a hidden facet of our planet. All you have to do is look, wish, believe and love."
So do begin this Journey.. a Journey to another world.. another space and time..
This is a book to indulge yourself into. Just go with the flow and you'll soon be absorbed by it's magical aura.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2003
This is like a gorgeous Persian manuscript, full of light, colour, action, adventure and intelligence. And not only is it a wonderful double story, about Omar Khayyam and his life and work, and centuries later, the American who becomes obsessed with finding the original ms, it's also a fabulous and extremely perceptive journey through Persian and Islamic culture, in both its positive and negative aspects. What Maalouf has to say about the tyranny in the Muslim world that too many people have to groan under, the lack of respect and yet the love felt for great literature and philosophy, and scariest of all, the way of the Assassins, the fanatics who love death-well, it's very, very topical. A lovely, thoughtful, extraordinary book that has really whetted my appetite to read more of Maalouf's work.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2006
This is a translation of a novel written in French by the Lebanese author Amin Maalouf. This novel is, in fact, two loosely linked stories tied together by the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. For those who are unaware of what this is, the Rubaiyat are a series of quatrains (four line poems) written in the 11th century in Persia. They are poems about life, love, women, and destiny which I would say they are comparable in some sense to the Odes of Horace (for those more familiar with Roman literature). These quatrains were supposedly lost for several centuries, rediscovered in the 19th century, and ultimately became enormously popular both in Persia (Iran) and the West. It is doubtful that Omar Khayyam wrote all of the collection, it is believed that some have been added in subsequent centuries. I found it useful to read some of the quatrains as I was reading this novel.

The first part of this novel is a fictionalized account of Omar Khayyam's life. I am not an expert, and I don't know how much is truly historical and how much is fictionalized, but this is both an informative and entertaining story. Khayyam befriends the head of a strict Muslim sect who founds the Assassins. This is also a tragic love story. This is primarily a political and romantic adventure describing the events surrounding Omar Khayyam as he writes his Rubaiyat.

The second part of the novel takes place in the late 19th and early 20th century as the Rubaiyat is uncoverd after centuries of hiding. A young man becomes obsessed with obtaining an original copy of the Rubaiyat, and ultimately gets swept into the Persian Constitutional Revolution of the early 20th century. As before, the story is primarily political and romantic in nature. It is interesting that the Persians (Iranians) of the early 20th century viewed the United States as the best example of democracy and freedom. I wonder if they feel the same today?

Like much of the writing of Maalouf, the main characters in the two stories don't fully participate/belong in the societies in which they are living. This gives them a unique perspective from which to evaluate the culture and the society around them. This novel is a great balance of compelling tales, tragic loves stories, and fascinating historical fiction, combined with the unique perspective that Mr. Maalouf writes with. This is a beautiful novel that I highly recommend.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2000
Once again Amin Maalouf has applied his prodigious story-telling ability to illuminate a slice of history with details hitherto unknown to this reader. Samarkand is a richly textured novel with all the right elements to capture and hold the reader's attention: Plot, adventure, romance, poetry, sex, cloak and dagger assassination, and international intrigue. But one should not be fooled by the genre, for, barely concealed behind the search for the manuscript of the famous Rubbaiyat of Omar Khayyam, purported to have gone down with the Titanic, is a well-researched chronicle that does justice to its author. It is a scholarly work that thrills like a mystery, tingles like a romance, tickles like a children's story, and educates better than those dry and boring books they handed out in school!
Samarkand takes you to 11th and 12th Century Persia where one learns that the word assassin, though Arabic in Origin, became the symbol for the most feared underground terrorist group then known to man. They were the vanguards of today's desperados who willingly suffer martyrdom for a cause.
The account of events chronicled by Maalouf opens a window into a world so exotic that we can hardly imagine its influence would reach across space and time to affect our own lives now in the 20th Century.
I could hardly put it down and was very sorry to see it end. But I do not despair; three more of Mr. Maalouf's books are stacked on my nightstand!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 1998
A friend of mine recommended this book to me and I am so pleased that he did - the story covers a vast region in the Middle East and informs the reader of the geography, history, politics, and poetry of Iran and what is now called Turkmenistan. I not only learned more about Omar Khayyam, arguably one of the finest poets and philosophers of Persia, but I was entertained from the love stories, friendships, deceit, revenge - all the ingredients for a great novel. I highly recomment this novel - it takes you to another world and makes you realize how art and culture play such integral roles in our lives, and how the poetry and philosophy written ten centuries ago are still present and relevant today!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 1999
Thanks to Amin Maalouf, time travel is available to all. This is one of the best book that I've ever read. It made me want to read all of Amin Maalouf's books: Leo Africanus, Garden of lights and The Rock of Tanios (which got the highest literary award in France). Can't wait for the next one.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2006
Other reviewers have highlighted the charm of the book, with its evocation of Khayyam, the Rubiyyat and the fabled cities of the Silk Route. I would like to point out that it holds a frightening parallel to our present times. The book was published in 1988, so Maalouf could have had no idea how closely his book would mirror the early part of the twenty first century.

The book deals partly with the confict between the hidden leader of a violent sect and powerful empire. The second part of the book deals with the citizens of a country (ironically, today's Iran) striving for democracy and freedom from the oppressive rule of theocrats, but opposed by two great world powers of the time (Britain and Russia!) who wish to maintain the status quo for their economic benefit.

The book is written with great charm and makes the reader feel (s)he is there. Like a previous reviewer, I do not know enough to separate fact from fiction, but at the end of the book, one wishes with all one's heart that there IS such a book, written in Omar Khayyam's own hand, and that it is NOT at the bottom of the Atlantic.

An amazing and uplifting book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2005
This is my third book of Malouf and I have not been disappointed. Any more such historical novels, and he is likely to be branded an Orientalist! It is a wonderful story, where he brings to life some well known names but their not that well known characters. It is hard to tell which parts he fills in and which parts are historically accurate. Delivery is smooth and unpretentious, which helped me to finish it in a few days. He does not really make a great effort at authenticity. Conversations sound too modern and there is not a lot of scenery details. Story itself works the magic. Things do take unexpected turns, or sometimes come to anti-climactic ends, as in real life and as in real history. Many pay lip service to the great traditions and stories of East, but Malouf gives us a full panoramic view.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2005
I was assigned this book to read for my Islamic Civilization class. At first I wasn't going to read it because, well, I felt I just didn't have the time. I had nothing to do one evening last week so I sat down and figured I'd give the book a try. Boy, am I ever glad I picked up Samarkand. It is a lively, somewhat romantic read, packed with adventure and intrigue. Two thumbs up.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2001
You enjoy the mixture of history, romance and culture in Samarkand. This is a book that you hate finishing the last page! I strongly recommend it.
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