“Whether depicting erotically charged harem intrigue or siege warfare, The Book of Saladin is an entertaining feat of revisionist storytelling” —The Sunday Times
As victories mount and accolades are showered upon the great warrior Saladin, he is nearly deified. He conquers the infidel Franj, or Crusaders, and reclaims the holy city of Jerusalem while remaining true to his senses of honor, justice, and humor. When it comes time for Saladin to record his own story, he turns to a Jewish scribe. In the interlinking stories of The Book of Saladin, the mighty sultan deftly navigates the deep chasms separating Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
A very different novel from Fear of Mirrors reviewed above, Ali's earthy, lusty saga about the fall of Jerusalem to Muslim forces in 1187 rewrites Eurocentric history by focusing on the historical figure Salah al-Din (better known as Saladin), the Kurdish upstart who used his position as sultan of Egypt and Syria to retake the Holy City from Crusaders. Through Saladin's confidences told to a fictive character--Isaac ibn Yahub, his Jewish scribe, who narrates the story--we not only learn of the sultan's marital woes (his favorite wife is having a lesbian affair with another concubine), we also view the Crusades from a non-Christian point of view. In this fiercely lyrical second installment of a projected tetralogy (following Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree), Ali exposes deep wounds between Christian, Muslim and Jewish civilizations that have yet to heal. A digressive arabesque weaving tales of political intrigue, gay and straight love, betrayal, cross-dressing, rape, assassination and crimes of passion, his tale ripples with implicit parallels to our age: Saladin prepares for "the mother of all battles"; his army wages a holy war to liberate Palestine; the Muslim nations are bitterly divided into mutually hostile factions. Some may feel Ali takes liberties too freely, as when Ibn Yahub walks in on his adulterous wife having sex with Maimonides, the celebrated Jewish philosopher; yet, throughout, the main characters sustain a fruitful dialogue on life after death, history, the oppression of women and the nature of spiritual and romantic love.