A Sultan In Palermo, by Tariq Ali

Too much bed-hopping, and not enough historical detail
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The Independent Culture

The first novel, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, recounted the expulsion of the Moors from Spain. The Book of Saladin related the life of Salah ad-Din, liberator of Jerusalem from the Crusaders, and The Stone Woman chronicled the end of the Ottoman Empire.

A Sultan in Palermo revisits the Middle Ages, this time in Sicily, an island conquered by the Aghlabids in the 10th century then reconquered by the Normans in 1092. It takes as its main characters two major historical figures, Roger II (1101-1154), Sicily's benevolent king, and his protégé, Muhammad al-Idrisi (1100-1165), a cartographer.

The alliance between Pope Urban II and the Byzantine Emperor Alexus I, which had launched the First Crusade, had also motivated Europe's Christian rulers to eradicate Muslim enclaves in the continent. However, Roger I, Sicily's conqueror, and his son Roger II refused to persecute the island's Muslims. Granting them full religious freedom, the kings protected them from the Church and Christian settlers. A Sultan in Palermo narrates these turbulent times, specifically the last years of Roger II, known to his Muslim subjects as Sultan Rujari.

Rujari and Al-Idrisi, his advisor, endeavour to preserve the peace between Christians and Muslims, even though Al-Idrisi has fathered Elinore, Rujari's putative daughter by a courtesan.

Al-Idrisi's affairs form the core of this narrative. Sadly, this preoccupation with bedroom exploits instead of the historical and psychological aspects of the Christian-Muslim conflict grossly devalues the novel's aspirations. Ali fails to explore the extraordinary friendship between two great men of different cultures.

Moris Farhi's novel 'Young Turk' is published by Saqi