The second novel in Tariq Ali’s Islam Quintet 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 present a full portrait in the Sultan’s memoirs. A series of interconnected stories follows, tales brimming over with warmth, earthy humor 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 favored wife, Jamila, and the beautiful Halina, 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. This is a medieval story, but much of it will be uncannily familiar to those who follow events in contemporary Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad. Betrayed hopes, disillusioned soldiers and unrealistic alliances form the backdrop to The Book of Saladin.
“The Book of Saladin is the second in a quartet of novels by Tariq Ali on the long encounter between Western Christendom and the world of Islam. Grippingly well told, brilliantly paced, remarkably convincing in its historical depiction of a fateful relationship, it is a narrative for our time, haunted by distant events and characters who are closer to us than we had dreamed.”
“Ali overturns demonising stereotypes of Salah-al-Din, portraying instead the ‘barbarian’ Western invaders. Whether depicting erotically charged harem intrigue or siege warfare, The Book of Saladin is an entertaining feat of revisionist storytelling.”
“Episodic, redolent of Middle Eastern epic story cycles, it rearranges the Euro-centric geographical and historical world view ... a story rich with human passion and poetry.”
“Ali’s new historical novel ... is told in a manner which combines the incantatory storytelling of the great Middle Eastern anthologies with the solidarity of historical research.”
“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.”