On the second anniversary of creating booksbyHala here’s the first book ever reviewed on the page on 1/9/2016: Amin Maalouf‘s Samarkand.

Was the last copy Omar Khayyam’s Rubáiyát on the Titanic? So claims Samarkand a novel by Amin Maalouf, an award winning Lebanese born, French author.

Maalouf was born and raised in Lebanon. He worked as a newspapers director until the civil war broke out in Beirut. He then moved to Paris and wrote his first book The Crusades Through Arab Eyes in 1983. His first novel was written in 1986, entitled Leo the African (reviewed on my page) is a fictional masterpiece. But it wasn’t until 1988 that Maalouf wrote Samarkand, an all-time favourite novel of mine and one I always recommend.

Samarkand is considered ‘historical- fiction’. For me, what makes this book so strong is how it homogeneously mixes different seemingly irrelevant historical events into a completely seamless story tailored by the author’s imagination. An absolute page-turner.

The book revolves around the life of the renowned Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer, Omar Khayyam. Khayyam most famous work, the Rubáiyát (quatrains: complete poems made of four lines only) was written over the span of multiple years. It is believed he has written around 2000 quatrains.

This is all we know for as facts. In his book, Amin Maalouf spiced up the facts with his imagination and ideas. Samarkand describes the daily life of Omar, the beautiful places he visits in Samarkand, his love story, how his enemies conspired against him due to jealousy and how they believed his work was pure blasphemy.

The reader is really transmitted to another world, the beautiful oriental palaces, Persian carpets, delicious dishes and colorful clothes are all envisioned in our minds. I actually decided to visit Samarkand (currently in Uzbekistan) after reading this book.

The reader also cannot but sympathise with Omar Khayyam. A very smart yet sweet person, very tender, honest, loving and raw in all is relationships. Which is why he stood out as a Sufi poet in a period of wars and invasions.

Maalouf’s story later concludes that the last existing copy of the Rubáiyát went on board the Titanic in 1912. This as you can imagine creates a lot of confusion and sadness in the reader. All I could think of was how unfortunate it was that after everything Khayyam had gone through, and after all the years the Rubáiyát  had survived, it eventually sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Could it be? Can we go look for it?

I always recommend this novel to people; it is a cohesive book in terms of characters, plot, love affair, successes, failures and mystery. All the elements that make a great story. 

Samarkand was originally written in French, so I assume, the majority will read a translated version of it, either Arabic or English. I read it in English and it was beautiful. Go grab a copy now.

Original book review on booksbyhala

Amin Maalouf, Samarkand cover (amazon)