Samarkand – Amin Maalouf

A slow read, in keeping with the languorous style, but that alone does it account for the time between finishing my last book and this. In between I’ve read a few of Phil’s LRBs and dipped into danah boyd’s It’s Complicated. But when looking for me next novel, I wasn’t really drawn to anything on my shelf of books to read – perhaps I need to recycle them – but in the absence of any library books and time to visit Barbican library to get some, I settled my sights on Samarkand and Amin Maalouf’s tale of the life of Omar Khayyám and and his poetic legacy, the Rubaiyaat.

The book is structured as four parts, the first two provide an account of Omar Khayyám’s life and the writing, and (initial) loss, of the Rubaiyaat, the latter two introduce us to the (fictional) narrator, an American Orientalist, the later history of the Samarkand Manuscript and the late 19th century western literary world’s rediscovery of Omar Khayyám – only for in the Rubaiyaat to be one of the many things lost on the Titanic.

Omar Khayyám’s time in Isfahan and his connections with the Assassins of Alamut brought back wistful memories of my trip to Iran and the wonderfully rich cultural heritage of Central Asia and the entire Silk Road. Samarkand provides us with an historical account of the times too – the creation of the Seljuk Empire, the Mongol invasions under Chengiz/ Genghis Khan, the disappearance of the kingdom of Khorasan. In the later parts of the books we follow the 20th century “Awakening of the Orient” – with the British and Russian empires still embroiled in the Great Game and an emergent US superpower all meddling in the Ottoman and Persian empires.

Publisher’s page: Samarkand – Amin Maalouf, translated by Russell Harris
Wikipedia page: Samarkand (novel)
Book review by The Independent, September 1992: Poetry lovers tricked by a drowned manuscript: Samarkand – Amin Maalouf, Tr. Russell: Harris