Saturday 22 January 2011
Leo the African by Amin Maalouf
Score: 4 out of 5
I was always going to love this book because I find both the time period generally and the Ottoman Empire in particular fascinating. But I loved it even more because the writing was just beautiful - at times I felt as though I could have been reading stories straight from Arabian Nights. Maalouf described all the towns, cities and landscapes poetically and I could practically smell the spices and hear the chatter of the people.
The novel is divided into four books, corresponding to the four main places where Leo spent his life (Granada, Fez, Cairo and Rome). Within each book one chapter corresponded to a year of his life. This structure worked very well at the beginning of the book, especially as Leo was growing up, but it seemed a bit restrictive in the section on Rome, which needed more detail than the structure could give.
My only criticism is that I would have liked to see more in the book of Leo himself rather than just him acting as a historian or reporter. At one point he converts from Islam to Christianity and I would have liked to read more about the arguments he went through and his thoughts. Overall a wonderful book though, highly recommended.