For the longest times I thought Tariq Ali only wrote non-fiction: Letter to a young Muslim, The Clash of Fundamentalisms and many others. Then I learned he also wrote the ‘Islam Quintet’. Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree is the first novel of this series. It starts with the bookburning in Granada, by the intolerant Catholicism under Queen Isabella of Spain. Two million manuscripts were burned in one night. A wall of fire engulfed the scientific knowledge and the beauty of the Arab writings with had initiated the end of the dark uncivilized middle ages in Europe. The aftermath of this event is told here as a family saga while their world collapses around them. The instinctive decency, dignity, moral vigor and courage, the theological and intellectual discussion, give us thought for food. The recipes and ingredients used by the family cooks are a nice touch just as the songs and poetry. Since Tariq Ali knows his history, he is free to weave the storyline around the actual happenings of that time.
- If we had used our iron fists to deal with Christianity the way you treat us now, the situation might never have arisen.
Spoken like the owl of Minerva. Instead you attempted to bring civilization to the whole peninsula regardless of faith and creed.
- There were apparent meaning and hidden meanings…. Allegorical interpretations were a necessary corollary to the truth.
- The heat and cold that remains in our body is never constant.
In the epilogue we meet the Captain who executed the killing of a whole village in South America eying the riches of Montezuma: ‘Much wealth went into its construction’. ‘ they are a very rich nation, Captain Cortez, came the reply…
And thus we are reminded that the carnage and pillage was about greed and we know what Cortez did with the rest of his life.
For this book Tariq Ali won an important literary prize in Spain as best foreign novel in 1994. I'll be ordering number two of the quintet.
Clowns from Amsterdam
7 years ago