- The Book Smuggler
The Book Smuggler
Translated by Sarah Enany
A magical story of a Crusade-era bookseller who embarks on a journey through the Islamic world’s great medieval cities, winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature
In the epic fashion of the great Arab explorers and travel writers of the Middle Ages, scribe and bookworm Mazid al-Hanafi narrates this journey from his remote village in the Arabian Desert. Dreaming of grand libraries, his passion for the written word draws him into a secret society of book smugglers and into the famed cultural capitals of the period—Baghdad, Jerusalem, Cairo, Granada, and Cordoba.
He discovers a dangerous new world of ideas and experiences the cultural diversity of the Islamic Golden Age, its sects, philosophical schools, wars, and ways of life.
Omaima Al-Khamis’s magical storytelling and her vivid descriptions of time and place trace a route through ancient cities and cultures and immerse us in a distant era, uncovering the intellectual debates and struggles which continue to rage today.
Omaima Al-Khamis was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1966. A prolific writer, columnist, critic, social reformer, and women’s rights activist, she has published novels, short-story collections, opinion pieces, and children's books. The Book Smuggler, her fourth novel, won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, and was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, both under the title, Masra al-gharaniq fi mudun al-aqiq (Voyage of the Cranes over the Agate Cities.) It is her English language publishing debut. She lives in Riyadh with her husband, two sons, and daughter.
Sarah Enany is a literary translator and a professor in the English Department of Cairo University.
Winner of the Mahfouz Medal for Literature
Longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction
"This is an absolutely superb book. Firstly, it is a wonderful story, full of the colorful adventures of Mazid, the many problems he faces, the political and religious upheavals, the various stories he and others recount, the problems of travel in the eleventh century and the struggle to get his books to the right people."—The Modern Novel
"Al-Khamis’ singular imagination shines through in this erudite and sensual tale that captures a complex moment in Islamic history.”—The Markaz Review
"Al-Khamis shows us the sounds and sights of a diverse Arab culture . . . and an occasional touch of Arabian magic reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights."—Historical Novels Review
"An exercise in exquisite language"—The National
"This deeply informed view of the medieval Islamic world will absorb readers of serious historical fiction, and knowledge lovers."—Library Journal
“Extraordinary. . . filled with vivid descriptions, incredibly detailed history and a vibrant lightness. . . . Through her perfectly paced, patiently illuminating tale, Al-Khamis pays homage to a deep-rooted history, one that is tense and joyful, in which the passion of men and women outweighs the fear of the time and those who want to control thoughts and lives.”—Arab News
“Al-Khamis draws upon medieval Arabic travel literature (adab al-rihla) and a great humanist tradition spanning East and West. Her language exquisitely traces a route through beleaguered cities in a novel that speaks to the importance of culture, imbuing them instead with rare and precious knowledge.” —Tahia Abdel-Nasser, The American University in Cairo
"The hero’s epic journey takes the reader not only through the lands of the eleventh-century Arab oikumene that stretched from Baghdad to Andalusia, but simultaneously across a world of intellectual debate and struggle in which may be found the roots of many of the issues, and turmoil even, of the region today. For the Western reader, this novel will bring to mind much that is familiar in his or her own history.” —Humphrey Davies, Judges Committee for the Naguib Mahfouz Medal