Recommended: Leo the African

Leo Africanus
In the need of a good reading book for this dark period of the year? Leo the African by Amin Maalouf is without any doubt one of the best books I have read since a long time.

Put onto a background of the 15th-16th century East-West or Christian-Muslim conflicts, the reader follows Hasan al-Wazzan, a merchant, traveller and writer on his travellers after being chased from Granada to Fez, in a caravan through North Africa and during his years in Cairo and Rome. From place to place, from woman to woman, he learns to drop and pick up his life and fortunes.

Amin Maalouf writes in a witty, eloquent style, becoming for a 15th century traveller. Through his words, one has no trouble fantasizing about the Souk in Fez or the river ports of Cairo. Here is the first page of his book.

Leo The African on AmazonI, Hasan the son of Muhammad the weigh-master, I, Jean-Leon de Medici, circumcised at the hand of a barber and baptized at the hand of a pope, I am now called the African, but I am not from Africa, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia. I am also called the Granadan, the Fassi, the Zayyati, but I come from no country, from no city, no tribe. I am the son of the road, my country is the caravan, my life the most unexpected of voyages.

My wrists have experienced in turn the caresses of silk, the abuses of wool, the gold of princes and the chain of slaves. My fingers have parted a thousand veils, my lips have made a thousand virgins blush, and my eyes have seen cities die and empires perish.

From my mouth you will hear Arabic, Turkish, Castilian, Berber, Hebrew, Latin and vulgar Italian, because all tongues and all prayers belong to me. But I belong to none of them. I belong only to God and to the Earth, and it is to them that I will one day soon return.

But you will remain after me, my son. And you will carry the memory of me with you. And you will read my books. And this scene will come back to you: your father, dressed in the Neapolitan style, aboard this galley which is conveying him towards the African coast, scribbling to himself, like a merchant working out his accounts at the end of a long journey.

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Picture courtesy University of Virginia


Anonymous,  20 April, 2011 18:29  

You may or may not like "The Adventurer" or "Michael the Finn" a novel by Mika Waltari (title differs from country to country) has few similarities
with "Leon l'Africain". Same period, similar historical events across Europe such as the sack of Rome. But seen from
the other side of the mirror, Michael's journey does not end in Rome but in Istanbul first as a captive, than gets higher functions
close to the Sultan of the Ottoman empire, Selim 1st. And then...


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