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on September 13, 2013
One might not expect a geographer to be a great inspiration for historical fiction. But when that geographer travels the lands he chronicles at a time of great upheaval and turmoil and becomes embroiled in every sort of adventure and meets major historic figures along the way, it can indeed become a lively and engaging novel. Such is the case with the titular Moorish traveler in Amin Maalouf's 1986 book, Leo Africanus.

Born as al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi in Granada in the 1490's, Hasan is forced into exile as a child after the Spanish Reconquista. This sets the tone for his life, as he's constantly on the move. He and his family move to Fez, Morocco, with other refugees, where Hasan comes of age and begins one of his many runs of success. On the way back to Fez from Timbuktu on a diplomatic mission, he happens to be in Cairo when the Ottoman Empire conquers Egypt. Later, he's abducted by Spanish pirates, taken to Rome, and sold to the Pope, who befriends him, baptizes him as Leo Africanus, and employs him as a diplomat to the Ottoman's. Oh, and at the same time as Leo is in Rome, Martin Luther is starting the Reformation. While in Italy, Leo begins the geography of Africa and an Arabic dictionary for which he is remembered.

That brief summary is just the tip of the iceberg. Maalouf does a fantastic job of placing you in the varied and exotic places Leo finds himself and really puts you right there with Leo through all his highs and lows. As exciting as the major political action is, Maalouf vividly brings to life Leo's personal journey as well. You really begin to understand the way this eternal nomad feels as the tide of fate carries him on, and the troubles and joys he finds along the way, in his family, romantic, and professional lives.

Leo Africanus really is an excellent example of historical fiction at its finest. Not only do you get to see interesting historical events up close or understand how ancient societies worked, but you get an intensely personal and touching story as well. Maalouf writes the novel in the form of a memoir from Africanus to his son, and there's a wonderful sense of introspection in the work.

Maalouf also writes beautifully. The language, the pacing, the descriptions - the novel at times almost feels like poetry, but it never veers into self-indulgence. It's even more amazing when considering that the novel was originally published in French and translated by historian Peter Sluglett, who is to be commended for rendering the work in English so well.

I highly recommend Leo Africanus. It does everything historical fiction aims for and does so in a beautiful, poetic, thoughtful voice. I certainly plan to read more from Maalouf, both historical fiction and history. He's a fantastic writer and is very talented at bringing you right into the scene, the time, the society he's describing. Alright, enough already - go get yourself a copy Leo Africanus and get started!
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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 January 8, 2008
There's little I can add to the laudatory comments on Maalouf's book "Leo Africanus." Those familiar with Africanus will appreciate Maalouf's use of historical facts to season his gripping story. Those who are simply looking for a good read can rest assure that the life of Leo (both in reality and in this novel) is sufficiently interesting. The translation from Maalouf's French into English appears to be excellent (I don't speak French) as it is highly bombastic without being uppity.
I only with that Maalouf had given some insight into why Leo wrote so spitefully of Muslims in his "Geographical Historie of Africa" (unless this was only added by John Pory, the translator)
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on March 18, 2017
From the first sentence, until the very end, it is a captivating story, fantastically written. A must read novel/biography of a most interesting character.
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on November 28, 2013
Amin Maalouf is one of the writers that always get the point. In Leo Africanus he made an historical novel that can compete with Sinuhe the Egyptian by Mika Waltari. I do not find at the same level. Simply splendid.
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on January 20, 2013
This is a wonderful book that depicts the adventures of Leo Africanus from the fall of Granada to the sack of Rome in the 16th Century. I preferred the first part of the book that described Granada and Fez as it came alive with details. The rest of the book was an interesting narrative, fast moving and engaging, but somewhat lacking in description and coverage, so it was a little harder to relive it with him. That said, I don't want to disuade anyone from reading this wonderful book. I couldn't put it down. It's a real treat for those of us interested in the Moslem perspective on this period.
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on January 16, 2013
Leo Africanus is a difficult read in that the language is unusual and, at times, hard to follow. In many ways, the words seems more important than the story itself. The hero seems weak-charactered in that he changes religions and women easly as the plot, it seems, requires. The ending seemed unsettled in that the author seemed to not know how else to end it. However, the history and religious implications were fascinating. I would recommend this book but one needs a long time to digest it.
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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 March 14, 2017
Great novel and great read. It captures well the time and the life of this remarkable historical figure.
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on August 10, 2015
This is an excellent historical novel Leo was an actual person so there is much to learn from this work about European relationships with Islam. Maalouf is a major French author and it is good to have one of his major books available in English.
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