The reading of this book completes my list of the Islamic Quintet (four of have been written so far). This is the first of the series and I read it last due to its unavailability. I needed to get it from Kolkata to read it. Gautham, I would always owe the reading of this book to you!!!
The book is excellent and carries on with the tradition of the other books in the series. The structure and the theme of the book is the same as the others. Islamic glory is in the past and the characters in the book face and existential crisis in the new environment, their enemy – an intolerant and barbaric Christianity that is intent on committing genocide in name of religion.
This book deals with the fall of one the greatest Islamic empires – in Spain (or Al-Andalus as it was called then) when it was conquered by the Reconquista by the Christians. This fall is shown through the eyes of the members of the ruling family in the village of Banu Hudayl, a family whose members are as varied as they have been in the other novels of the series – an indication of the incredible diversity in the Islamic world.
The book starts with the scene of a book burning in Granada by the newly conquering Christians (led by the bishop Ximenes de Cisneros) and sets a tone for the entire story – where Muslims who had practiced an inclusive rule where all religions were allowed to live in peace suddenly finds itself confronted with a highly intolerant Christianity that would know no peace until it wipes off Muslim population in Spain. Historically this new Spain gave birth to the conquistadors who enslaved the indigenous population in South America and who wiped off thriving Indian cultures there (including Incan and the Mayan civilization). The germ for that barbarity is sown in the events taking place in the book. The epilogue in the book is appropriately pointing towards this…that was a very apt ending, I felt.
It showed that events that took place nearly 600 years ago still make their impact felt today. Evo Morales is a prime example of the struggle that the indigenous population had to endure to get back some of the dignity lost to the Spanish all those years ago…
This book serves as a timely historical corrective in terms of the perception that people have of the Islamic world. Tariq Ali through these novels has been able to make the characters populating those times as relevant as people today. These books also serve as a history lesson that is not told so easily by the dominant world media pandering as they are to a uni-dimensional world view.
As with the other books of the series, the book can also be read as a gripping story with many-dimensional people trying to find their destiny. It is set in a world that might seem fantastic and magical today – a reminder of what we have lost.
One of the most satisfying series that I have read…cant wait for the last book…