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Friday, December 22, 2017

Tariq Ali's Islam Quintet

I finished reading Tariq Ali's Night of the Golden Butterfly yesterday -- and with that I have completed all five novels in his "Islam Quintet," which I began the week before the first week of instruction for the Fall term and so finish a week after handing in final grades for that term. I enjoyed and learned from all five and found real provocation from most, though I would say that I enjoyed the last two least, as they are bit more thematically and narratively scattered. Every single novel was full of humor, delightful observations, and contrarian historical knowledge. My favorites were the first two I read, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree and The Book of Saladin. I would warn that the conclusions of Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree and A Sultan in Palermo are devastatingly brutal (at any rate, they truly were for me) -- especially if you are prone to worry about the worst-case genocidal-authoritarian scenarios of the Trump epoch, for the historical parallels are not edifying. Like Night of the Golden Butterfly, The Stone Woman was a more meandering and gentle read (indeed, the latter is positively Chekhovian in some ways), in a way both make for milder more diverting entertainments, although Ali is doing lots of admirably ambitious things formally in the latter novels, too, don't get me wrong. I strongly recommend them all.

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