Grandfather’s Tale – Ulfat Idilbi, translated by Peter Clark

It took me a while to get into this after the easy reading served up by Sue Grafton. Mind you, there is quite a contrast between 1980s California and 19th century Syria…

In the Grandfather’s Tale, we hear the story, told by a mother to her children, of her grandfather’s lifelong quest to be re-united with his mother left behind in the central Asian country of Dagestan when father and son travel to Damascus.

I’m no expert on arabian fiction, but the story telling seems classicially arabian, with a new chapter each night a bit like the princess in 1001 Nights. The book is not long, and it was an easy way to learn more about the common history and society of central asia and the middle east, which have shared so much for so long. It is clear that although Dagestan is many weeks travel away from Damascus, the common culture and religion remove any barriers that might exist. You also learn about Imperial Russia’s invasion of the Caucasus, two centuries before the current strife in Chechnya, which is surely not unrelated.

Whilst Islam and pilgrimmage are ever present in the book, it is a backdrop to a muslim society with does not demonstrate any elements of the Axis of Evil. Away from the struggles for independence, the world we see is peaceful and content – it is only really the modern world that equates the region with militant, fundamentalist Islam. I can’t help thinking that there must be many mirrored parallels between the relationship between Middle East and West in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the same relationship during the centuries of Christianity’s Crusades.

That said, it’s not a dry, deliberately educational novel. The story is of a boy’s love for his family, and the mother he left behind aged 10.

Buy it: Amazon link