Monday 5 November 2012

Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt by Jurji Zaydan - Book Review

Title: Tree of Pearl, Queen of Egypt
Author: Jurji Zaydan
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
Publication Date: 1st December 2012
Pages: 239
Format: E-Book - PDF
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: ARC via NetGalley

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Shajar al-Durr, known as Tree of Pearls, was one of the most famous Arab queens and the only woman in the medieval Arab world to rule in her own name. Her narrative is one element of a much larger story of the unsettled political climate of thirteenth-century Egypt. In this eponymous novel, Zaydan charts the fall of the Ayyubid Dynasty and the rise of the Mamluke Dynasty through the adventures of Tree of Pearls and Rukn al- Din Baybars, a young Mamluke commander who eventually triumphs as the ruler of Egypt. War, political intrigue, murder, and a female ruler who was born a slave combine for an irresistible story, while Zaydan’s keen observations on royal politics and subverted gender roles offer readers a richly detailed glimpse of the cultural milieu of the time.

Tree of Pearls, originally published in 1914, is the last in a famous series of historical novels written by Zaydan, an accomplished historian whose books continue to be read widely in the Arab world today. Selim’s fluid translation introduces an English audience to one of the Arab world’s influential writers.
(Goodreads Synopsis)

Having never read any literature from this part of the world before, I found this an interesting read. The first third of the book, I was fully invested in the characters, but then the title character vanished from sight and I floundered a bit in the middle until things finally picked up again for the ending.

The translation read smoothly and the book had a fairly poetic feel in certain places. The story was intriguing and the characters engaging, but for me that spark was just missing: I enjoyed the book but I didn't love it.

Still, it was a good introduction to Islamic fiction and, based on this, I'd be happy to give other authors from that region a try.

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