Book Review: Leo Africans

Amin Maalouf, Author W. W. Norton & Company $17.95 (360p) ISBN 978-0-393-02630-6

Through the adventures of a wise, courageous traveler, this excellent historical novel re-creates the era when the Moors were expelled from Spain, and much of North Africa and southern Europe was in turmoil. Hassan al-Wazzan was just a child the year Columbus sailed to the New World, and quarreling among Moslems led to their surrender of Granada to Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The gradual exile of Hassan’s family from Spain is developed through recollections of his proud, erring father, his badly treated mother and her diplomat brother. As a merchant and emissary, Hassan travels from Fez to Cairo to Mecca andby misadventureto Rome and the Vatican, where he is later renamed Leo Africanus. The changes in his fortunes and family reflect shifts in the political realities of the late 14th and 15th centuries. Chronicling Hassan’s political and personal lifeincluding the continuing conflict between the secular and religiousMaalouf offers a lurid history lesson in this sweeping, sympathetic portrayal of Islamic culture of the period. (Jan.)

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