Mon, 11/28/2005 - 6:09pm by Tim
Jonathan Rodgers, Head, Near East Division, University of Michigan Library
Amin Maalouf; translated by Peter Slugett, Leo Africanus. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 1992, c1988.
Amin Maalouf's historical novel tells the story of the life of Leo Africanus, Hasan al-Wazzan, born in Granada, Spain, around 1488, shortly before the fall of Muslim rule to the Christians and the exile of his family with other Muslims to Fez, Morocco. Leo travelled in North Africa and the Mediterranean to Timbuktu, Cairo, and Rome, where he was baptized a Christian, and wrote his "Description of Africa," on which the remarkable and highly enjoyable novel is based. He returned to Tunis in 1527.
In Granada at the end of the fifteenth century, in an atmosphere of threat of imminent collapse of the existing political and social order, there remained a deep sense of tolerance among Muslims, Christians, and Jews who lived peacefully with each other. This sense of multi-cultural tolerance combined with a distrust of fanaticism and bigotry, whether religious, ethnic or social, is the pervasive theme of the book and provides us with a model for striving for an equal sense of liberal-mindedness and tolerance in our affairs today, especially as we deal with seemingly insurmountable international challenges posed by our relations with the Arab World.