… and much more beyond that.
It was only recently that I became aware of Samarkand, from where I cannot recall. But the festive stocking contained the most recent volume of Amin Maalouf’s masterpiece. I see that it first appeared in English in 1992, since when it was been reprinted over 20 times. There’s a copy of that first edition on it’s away, for this one richly deserves a place on the shelf.
We go back to the 11th century, and a young lad called Omar. He is a studious chap, a watcher of the stars, a philosopher; and he is in the habit of penning the odd quatrain, or rubai, as they are known down at the souk. Omar is given a wee jotter, hand pressed and bound, to scribe his utterances, to preserve them. As a tribute his notebook his later illustrated.
And this is an account of what may have happened to The Rubiayaat, of Omar Khayyam.
Legend has it the original Samarkand Manuscript was on board the Titanic, bound for New York, destined never to arrive, to be lost forever. By then the verses had been translated, were known. But in the intervening centuries…
Maalouf gives us the life of Omar, takes us to Samarkand, to Teheran, and Alamut. There is the court and the harem and the intrigue of the times. He then takes us to his adopted home, Paris, late 19th century, and off we go again, back to Persia, in different times, and on to Cherbourg, onboard.
Amin Maalouf is Lebanese, has lived in Paris for many years, and writes in French. I see he has some other works to his name; and I have some festive tokens. But in Samarkand he has a lot to live up to. It is the first entry over on The Bookshelf for 2015, a real gem.