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Moving the Palace by [Charif Majdalani, Edward Gauvin]

Moving the Palace Kindle Edition

4.1 4.1 out of 5 stars 24 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


"This utterly charming and, yes, moving novel takes us on a journey ... and the result is a victory of human ingenuity and a joyous picaresque. VERDICT Beautiful fun that also gives a deeper sense of Middle East history."
Library Journal

"Charif Majdalani has a ripping yarn to tell and tells it with a raconteur's bravura. Transporting, wholly engaging, deeply moving. This book is why I travel and why I read."
Andrew McCarthy, award-winning director, actor, and author of Just Fly Away and The Longest Way Home

Moving the Palace is an eloquent, captivating excursion through a Middle East history that is more relevant today than ever. Majdalani is a major storyteller and a novelist with conscience who writes the past with transnational awareness."
Rawi Hage, author of De Niro's Game and Cockroach

"On one side the desert, infinite, immensely varied, splendid. On the other, the courage, obstinacy, folly, violence, and dreams of men. Through this fascinating adventure, Charif Majdalani constructs one of the most beautiful epics I've ever read."
Antoine Volodine, author of Minor Angels and Naming the Jungle

"This novel provides entrée into the extraordinary fictional work of Charif Majdalani; with each book he lays out magnificent, terrible and true history through family genealogy, hopes and dramas. And each time Majdalani renews our vision."
Patrick Deville, author of Plague and Cholera

“In language of extreme classicism—he is often compared to a Lebanese Proust—Majdalani imposes his rhythm, slow and mesmerizing, to bring us in step with his story … Throughout this epic tale he intimately weaves together the grand history of his country and his family, mixing fiction and reality in language of infinite sensuality.”

“An odyssey in the manner of
The Thousand and One Nights.”
Le Figaro littéraire

“An extraordinary book somewhere between adventure story, picaresque novel, fairytale and chronicle of a bygone era.”
Neue Zürcher Zeitung

“Recounts the immense folly and excess of an explosive colonial episode—forgotten, deadly, torturous and involving weapons traffic and hidden treasures. Something that would have excited the adventurer Rimbaud had he survived his injuries …. Flaubert … would have loved this imaginary depiction of a real historical event.”
Le Point

“The reader remains captivated long after having completed this epic and comic novel that allows one to perceive in the ineffable silence of the desert the attachment of a man to his homeland.”
Le Monde

“Full of stirring epic images, trenchant anecdotes celebrating the virtues of movement … Majdalani has a way of merging time and place that makes his writing convey the concerns of men, their illusions, the sounds of the desert and the rhythm of marches and halts.”
Le Matricule des Anges
"Renders the complex social landscape of the Middle East and North Africa with subtlety and finesse ... Yet one doesn’t need to care about the region’s history, or its present-day contexts, to enjoy 'Moving the Palace' ... brio and Mr. Majdalani’s richly textured prose are reason enough."
The Wall Street Journal

“Charming and gently humorous … Majdalani’s writing sparkles … Those looking for an enjoyable and brisk literary adventure will be very satisfied.”
Publishers Weekly

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

This is a tale full of mounted cavalcades beneath great wind-tossed banners, of restless wanderings
and bloody anabases, he thinks, musing on what could be the first line of that book about his life he’ll never write, and then the
click-clack of waterwheels on the canal distracts him; he straightens up in his wicker chair and leans back, savoring from the terrace where he’s sitting the silence that is a gift of the desert the desert spreads in its paradoxical munificence over the plantations, the dark masses of the plum trees, the apricot trees, the watermelon fields, and the cantaloupe fields, a silence that for millennia only the click-clack of waterwheels has marked with its slow, sharp cadence. And what I think is, there may not be apricot orchards or watermelon fields, but that most definitely is the desert there, in the background of the photo, the very old photo where he can be seen sitting in a wicker chair, cigar in hand, gazing pensively into the distance, in suspenders, one leg crossed over the other, with his tapering mustache and disheveled hair, the brow and chin that make him look like William Faulkner, one of the rare photos of him from that heroic era, which I imagine was taken in Khirbat al Harik, probably just after he’d come from Arabia, though in fact I’m not at all sure, and really, what can I be sure of, since apart from these few photos, everything about him from that time is a matter of myth or exaggeration or fancy? But if I am sure of nothing, then how should I go about telling his story; where shall I seek the Sultanate of Safa, vanished from the memory of men but still bound up with his own remembrances; how to imagine those cavalcades beneath wind-tossed banners, those Arabian tribes, and those palaces parading by on camelback; how to bring together and breathe life into all those outlandish, nonsensical particulars uncertain traditions have passed down, or vague stories my mother told me that he himself, her own father, told her, but which she never sought to have him clarify or secure to something tangible, such that they reached me in pieces, susceptible to wild reverie and endless novelistic embroidering, like a story of which only chapter headings remain, but which I have waited to tell for decades; and here I am, ready to do so, but halting, helpless, drifting into daydream as I imagine he drifted on the verandah of that plantation in Khirbat al Harik, watching flash past in memory that which I will never see, but which I shall be forced to invent?

Yet his story, at the start, hardly differs from those of any other Lebanese emigrants who, between 1880 and 1930, left their homeland to seek adventure, fame, or fortune in the world. If many of them met with success thanks to trade and commerce, there were some whose stories retained a more adventurous note, like those who braved the Orinoco to sell the goods of civilization to peoples unknown to the world, or those who were heroes of improbable odysseys in the far Siberian reaches during the civil wars in Russia. He was one of these, who came back at last with his eyes and head full of memories of escapades and follies. Tradition has it that he left Lebanon in 1908 or ’09. He could’ve headed for the U.S. or Brazil, as did most, or for Haiti or Guyana, as did the most courageous, or for Zanzibar, the Philippines, or Malabar, as did the most eccentric, those who dreamed of making fortunes trading in rare or never-before-seen wares. Instead, he chose the most thankless land known at the time, and headed for the Sudan. But back then, the Sudan proffered immense opportunities to a young Lebanese man who was Westernized, Anglophone, and Protestant to boot. And he was these three things, the child of an ancient family of Protestant poets and littérateurs originally Orthodox Christians from the Lebanese mountains, poets and littérateurs who, when the winds of revival wafted through Eastern philosophy, wrote treatises on the modernization of tropes in Arab poetry, whole divans of poems, and even an Arabic-English dictionary. Of his childhood, nothing is recorded; this much, however, is: at the age of eighteen he began his studies at the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut. After that, the ancient name he bore was not to open the doors to any career path other than scholarship, attended by some unremarkable post in the service of the Ottoman administration. This, it seemed, would not suffice him. Like the conquistadors who left a Europe that could no longer contain them, he left Lebanon one spring morning in 1908 or ’09, no doubt taking with him in a small suitcase a few shirts and handkerchiefs, and in his head a few delicate memories, the trees in the garden of the familial abode where a salt wind echoed the stately meter of the open sea, the aromas of jasmine and gardenia, the skies above Beirut vast and mild as a woman’s cheek and the liturgical whiteness of the snows on Mount Sannine.

In those inaugural years of the twentieth century, the Sudan has just been retaken by Anglo-Egyptian armies, who put an end to the Khalifa Abdallahi’s despotic regime, and returned the land to Egypt. Confusion still reigns, the country is only half under control, reconstruction on the ruined former capital has barely begun. But after decades of obscurantist tyranny, a new world is being born, and in the flood of men arriving to seize the still innumerable opportunities are a few from Lebanon: merchants, smugglers, artisans. But he is not one of these. The oldest accounts about the man who would become my grandfather report that he was a civilian officer in the Sudan, and it was in that capacity, no doubt, that he would live out the fantastical adventures attributed to him. Just as it reached Sudan, the British Army was in fact starting to recruit Anglophone Christian Arabs of Lebanese origin to act as liaisons with the local populace. Considered civilian officers, these intermediary agents were first assigned to the Egyptian Ministry of War in Cairo before being dispatched to their posts in Khartoum.

This means that at first—that is, the day he arrived in Khartoum—he had come from Cairo, after thirty hours of vile dust and soot tossed backward in black plumes by locomotives first of the Cairo-Luxor line, then the Luxor-Wadi Halfa, then the Wadi Halfa-Khartoum. Here he is, stepping off the train, covered in dust right up to the pockets of his white suit jacket, sand in his eyes and nostrils, the same amused air as in the photo I mentioned, with his trim mustache and his Faulknerian brow, though for all that with hair neatly combed and suitcase in hand. For a mallime, a massive Sudanese man in white robes sees to dusting him off with a great feather, after which a British officer politely waiting in the wings steps forward to ask, “Mr. Samuel Ayyad?” And like that he is taken in hand, conveyed to the barge that crosses the Blue Nile, then to Khartoum itself, and then, in a carriage, through the construction site that is the city to a white, new, unfinished villa where he must step over piles of brick and goatskins full of cement, getting his shoes all dusty again, but not with the usual brown dust, rather the white powdery dust of plaster. “One of these rooms will be your office from now on, sir,” explains the British officer. “You will share it with a colleague. The rest of the house will be yours.”

So everything starts off wonderfully, and we will continue in the same vein, imagining that the next morning the same officer takes him to Naoum Choucair, a Syro-Lebanese man of an older generation, advisor to the heads of the British army. And with him, the contract is clear. “You will have two months to familiarize yourself with the country,” says the old veteran, adventurer from the age of Khalifa Abdallahi. “You will receive reports from different districts, and you will write up a summary of them in English. That will be an excellent exercise to start off with.” We will say that they are in Choucair’s office in the buildings being restored in Gordon Pasha’s former palace. Of course the Nile can be glimpsed through the window, and when Choucair notices Samuel’s furtive glances at it, he drags him forward, declaring that this room is Gordon’s former office. He points out the Nile’s far bank, to the west, the train station where he disembarked the night before, then feluccas with their slanting masts on the river, then a seagull. Then there is a long silence punctuated by the din of laborers’ hammers and trowels as they work on renovating a palace façade, and Choucair starts talking again: “It will be an excellent exercise to start off with. You will be assigned the office in Kurdufan, a district where you will no doubt have to go.”

Samuel, who has returned to his wicker armchair, notices Choucair’s hesitation. He sees the hesitation of the man now seated sideways on a little sofa, elbow on the back, reads the question in his eyes, and anticipates its asking by nodding that yes, of course, he knows exactly where Kurdufan is. “At any rate,” says Choucair after this little silent exchange, “I’ll have a map of Sudan hung in your office.” He rises and heads for his desk, cluttered with books, manuscripts, letters, and strange instruments, spyglasses, portolans, even wooden statuettes he must have brought back long ago from the Bahr el Ghazal. He has probably occupied this office no more than a few months, but already he has layered it with the silt of a dozen years’ of travel across the land. He is of medium height, a bit tubby, with a graying beard, and the look of a great dreaming rover. What’s more, he keeps getting up and sitting back down again, and makes sweeping gestures as he speaks, without a care for the bottles of liqueur, statuettes, vases he is constantly in danger of toppling, as if he were more at ease in a pirogue on the Upper Nile or pitching on the back of a camel in the desert than confined by four walls. At that very moment he must be describing, perhaps by way of compensation, his famous and monumental
History and Geography of Sudan. From amidst the disorder of his desk he plucks a cigar, offers Samuel one, and starts talking again, not in English now but Arabic, the Arabic of Lebanon; he claims to know well the Arabic-English Dictionary of Nassib Ayyad, Samuel’s father; he says this knowledge of languages is an asset (he says “our knowledge of languages,” and no doubt he means we Lebanese); he says the British need people who speak Arabic as well as they do English, and that proud as Baring and Kitchener are of their officers who speak Arabic, they speak like asses and understand even less, they learned it from The Thousand and One Nights, and he laughs. Samuel smiles, watching him with curiosity and without intervening, for from such men there is always much to learned.
--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B06XQ695B8
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ New Vessel Press; Translation edition (March 20, 2017)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ March 20, 2017
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 5423 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 188 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
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