Author: Tariq Ali
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8170462967
Tariq Ali’s latest novel is a rich and teeming chronicle set in twelfth-century Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem. The Book of Saladin is the fictional memoir of Saladin, the Kurdish liberator of Jerusalem, as dictated to a Jewish scribe, Ibn Yakub. Saladin grants Ibn Yakub permission to talk to his wife and retainers so that he might portray a complete picture of him in his memoirs. A series of interconnected stories follow, tales brimming over with warmth, earthy humour and passions in which ideals clash with realities and dreams are confounded by desires. At the heart of the novel is an affecting love affair between the Sultan’s favoured wife, Jamila, and the beautiful Halima, a later addition to the harem.
The novel charts the rise of Saladin as Sultan of Egypt and Syria and follows him as he prepares, in alliance with his Jewish and Christian subjects, to take Jerusalem back from the Crusaders. It is a medieval story, but much of it will be cannily familiar to those who follow events in contemporary Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad. Betrayed hopes, disillusioned soldiers and unreliable alliances form the backdrop to The Book of Saladin.
This is the second of a planned quartet of historical novels depicting the confrontation between Islamic and Christian civilisations. The first, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, recounted the story of the fall of Islam in Spain.
Grippingly told, brilliantly paced, remarkably convincing in his historical depiction of a fateful relationship, it is a narrative of our time, haunted by distant events and characters who are closer to us than we dreamed.
-EDWARD W SAID
Fiercely lyrical. Weaving political intrigue, gay and straight love, betrayal, cross-dressing, rape, assassination and crimes of passion, Ali’s tale ripples with implicit parallels to our age.
MAP: THE NEAR EAST IN THE LATE TWELFTH CENTURY
On the recommendation of IBN Maymun, I become the sultan’s trusted scribe
I meet Shadhi and the Sultan begins to dictate his memoirs
A case of uncontrollable passions: the story of Halima and the judgement of the Sultan
A eunuch kills the great Sultan Zengi and the fortunes of Salah al-Din’s family take a turn; Shadhi’s story
Ibn Maymun’s wisdom and his prescriptions
Salah al-din’s boyhood memories of Damascus; Shadhi’s account of the Sultan’s first taste of carnal knowledge
The Spring Festival in Cairo; an erotic shadow-play in the Turcoman quarter
The story of the sheikh who, in order to keep his lover at home with him, forces his sister into marriage with the man, and the disastrous consequences for all three.
The young Salah al-Din is abandoned by his mistress for an older man and gets drunk in the tavern; his uncle Shirkuh decides to divert him by taking him on a short mission to conquer Egypt; Salah al-Din becomes the Vizir at the court of the Fatimid Caliph
I meet Halima in secret to hear her story; she tells of her life in the harem and the brilliance of the Sultana Jamila
Shadhi and the story of the blink sheikh; Salah al-Din tells how he overcame his rivals
The Sultan visits the new citadel in Cairo but is called back to meet Bertrand of Toulouse, a Christian heretic fleeing Jerusalem to escape the wrath of the templars
Shadhi test the Cathar hostility to fornication by spying on Bertrand of Toulouse; Jamila recounts how Salah al-din defied the traditions of the Prophet by spilling his seed on her stomach
The death of Sultan Nur al-Din and the opportunity of Salah al-Din
The causes of Shadhi’s melancholy; the story of his tragic love
I meet the great scholar Imad al-Din and marvel at his prodigious memory
I arrive home unexpectedly to find Ibn Maymun fornicating with my wife.
I meet the Sultan’s favourite nephews and hear them talk of liberating Jerusalem
Shadhi presides over the circumcision ceremony of Halima’s son; the death of Farrukh Shah
Halima abandons Jamila and the latter is heartbroken
Jamila leaves Damascus and, hoping to regain her serenity, returns to her father’s palace; Salah Al-din falls ill and I hasten to his side
The Sultan declares his undying hatred for Reynald of Chatillon; the death of Shadhi
A traitor is executed; Usamah entertains the Sultan with lofty thoughts and lewd tales
The Caliph’s letter and the Sultan’s reply, mediated by Imad al-Din’s diplomacy and intelligence; Jamila’s discourse on love
I dream of Shadhi; the Sultan plans his war
The Sultan pitches camp and soldiers begin to assemble form every quarter of his empire
The story of Amjad the eunuch and how he managed to copulate despite his disability
Divisions within the Franj are brought to our notice
The eve of the battle
The battle of Hattin
The Sultan thinks of Zubayda, the nightingale of Damascus
The last council of war
Salah al-Din is hailed as the great Conqueror, but he decides not to take Tyre, despite Imad al-Din’s advice to the contrary
Halima dies in Cairo: ugly rumours hold Jamila responsible
>From the outskirts of Jerusalem I write an excited letter to my good wife in Cairo
Salah al-Din takes Jerusalem; Imad al-Din eyes a beautiful Copt translator; Jamila makes her peace with Halima’s memory
The Kadi of Aleppo preaches in the mosque; the Sultan receives a letter form Bertrand of Toulouse; my family are burnt to death in a Franj raid on Cairo
LETTERS TO IBN MAYMUN
The Sultan welcomes my return; Richard of England threatens Tyre; Imad al-Din is sick with love
The Franj plague returns to Acre and Salah al-din is depressed; he confides his innermost doubts to me.
The fall of Acre; Imad al-Din’s story of Richard the Lion-Arse; the death of Taki al-din
The Lion-Arse returns to England and the Sultan retires to Damascus
Farewell to the Sultan