Accused of mocking the inviolate codes of Islam, the Persian poet and sage Omar Khayyam fortuitously finds sympathy with the very man who is to judge his alleged crimes. Recognising Khayyam's genius, the judge decides to spare him and gives him instead a small, bleak book, encouraging him to confine his thoughts to it alone…
Thus begins the seamless blend of fact and fiction that is . Vividly re-creating the history of the manuscript of the of Omar Khayyam, Amin Maalouf spans continents and centuries with breath-taking vision: the dusky exoticism of 11th-century Persia, with its poetesses and assassins; the same country's struggles nine hundred years later, seen through the eyes of an American academic obsessed with finding the original manuscript; and the fated maiden voyage of the , whose tragedy led to the 's final resting place — all are brought to life with keen assurance by this gifted and award-winning author.
"I, 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."
Thus wrote Leo Africanus, in his fortieth year, in this imaginary autobiography of the famous geographer, adventurer, and scholar Hasan al-Wazzan, who was born in Granada in 1488. His family fled the Inquisition and took him to the city of Fez, in North Africa. Hasan became an itinerant merchant, and made many journeys to the East, journeys rich in adventure and observation. He was captured by a Sicilian pirate and taken back to Rome as a gift to Pope Leo X, who baptized him Johannes Leo. While in Rome, he wrote the first trilingual dictionary (Latin, Arabic and Hebrew), as well as his celebrated Description of Africa, for which he is still remembered as Leo Africanus.
In this brilliant exploration of the post-9/11 world, leading Lebanese novelist and intellectual Amin Maalouf sets out to understand how we have arrived at such disorder. He explores three different but related aspects of disorder: intellectual (manifested in an unleashing of statements on identity that allow no possibility of peaceful co-existence or debate), economic and financial (that is exhausting the earth’s resources), and climatic (the result of turning a blind eye to the consequences of rampant industrialization). Instead of seeing the current disorder of the post-9/11 world as ‘a clash of civilisations’ Maalouf sees it as the ‘exhaustion of two civilisations’, a period in which humanity has reached its threshold of ‘moral incompetence’. Islam and the West have theoretical coherence, he says, but in practice each betrays its true ideals: the West is unfaithful to its own enlightenment values, which has discredited it in the eyes of the people to whom it has introduced democracy by force; while Islam finds itself condemned to a headlong rush into radicalism. These symmetrical disorders are only some of the elements in a global disorder that requires humanity as a whole to take responsibility for its future and face up to the urgent tasks such as climate change and the global financial crisis that threaten us all.