Yeah I Know, Never Read A Book

Jul 12, 2018

A serious music insight from the song “Lady Writer” by Dire Straits reminds me that reading is important. It takes approximately 8 hours to read a book.

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My favorite writer is Amin Maalouf, an award-winning Lebanese-born French author who has lived in France since 1976. Although his native language is Arabic, he writes in French, and his works have been translated into over 40 languages.

He received the Prix Goncourt in 1993 for his novel The Rock of Tanios as well as the 2010 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature. He is a member of the Académie française.

The reason is obvious. As a Lebanese born during the Civil War in 1980, my parents had to go to France to offer my sister and I a normal childhood. Since then, I had an identity crisis on a regular basis. As long as I can speak, there might be no problem.

Something Simple, Fill In The Blanks

Leo Africanus is a 1986 novel written in French by Maalouf, depicting the life of a historical Renaissance-era traveler, Leo Africanus. Since very little is actually known about his life, the book fills in the historical episodes, placing Leo in the company of many of the key historical figures of his time.

There is something terribly right with freedom. Without freedom, nothing can be flattering. And I guess the fact that little is known about Leo Africanus allowed Maalouf to show his culture and ours in the same time.

Historical figures of the Renaissance-era (a period in European history, covering the span between the 14th and 17th centuries) can be very rich. And I remember reading the book: I was initiated to history with geography.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing can be explained or told without history, geography and the interpretation we make.

Let Me Take You There, Said Maalouf

What if time travel was possible? Everybody knows it’s dangerous for the simple reason that you might not exist today. But with Samarkand, Maalouf explained everything that happened since 2001 in the history of the world.

The book is a 1988 historical fiction novel by Maalouf. The narrative revolves around the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyám and his poetry collection Rubaiyat. The novel received the Prix Maison de la Presse.

One critic reviewed the book and wrote: “Maalouf has written an extraordinary book, describing the lives and times of people who have never appeared in fiction before and are unlikely to do so again”.

Needless to say that today’s film industry is dominated by the USA and storytelling is not an easy task. By the way, some say love is a story that can’t be told.

Manic Depression Captured Our Souls

The Gardens of Light is a 1991 novel by Maalouf. It focuses on the Parthian religious thinker Mani, founder of Manichaeism.

A critic wrote in The New York Times: “The Gardens of Light has the feel of a 1950’s Hollywood epic, in which men gesture boldly and deliver words that deserve to be immediately carved in stone”. I remember reading this book and thinking: “indeed, no one is a prophet in his home country”.

That might be because people know you too much and you end up with a label. A positive label is not a problem but a negative one might be subject to debate. For example, I’m a talented musician and that’s why I’m writing a blog.

Anyway, Mani had a message like many people. But it might be encrypted. Who has got the key? Is really no one a prophet in his home country?

Talking About The End Of The World

I didn’t read The First Century after Beatrice by Maalouf (1992) but it seems only him can talk calmly about the end of the world. With my culture, I think I might have a clue.

You miss too much these days if you stop to think. The element of surprise is a wonderful one, like growing a chin. Anyway, the story is set in a near future, where a pharmacological company markets, in the guise of a traditional folk remedy, a drug by which parents can choose to only have sons.

I guess if you look for someone responsible, you might look for 2 people: a man and a woman. In China, they had a politic of only one child by a couple. But again, it’s the world most populous country.

My point is there might be a reason why humanity is a perfect 50/50 when it comes to sex.

Back To The Scene Of The Crime

The Rock of Tanios is a 1993 novel by Maalouf. It received the Prix Goncourt. The book is built around a historical event: in the nineteenth century in Lebanon, the murder of a patriarch took place; the assassin fled to Cyprus with his son. He was repatriated by a trick of an agent of the emir, then executed.

It’s such a drag to behave like this. I mean, you’re the son of an assassin. One could argue that the animal reign took over and there’s absolutely no problem with that.

I know some spies. When you are with them, you tend to forget everything you learned. You’ll never know how you’re being watched even though we have a small clue.

When it comes to fighting crime, maybe insults should be avoided. Because you could end up with a wrong accusation.

Mr Businessman, Can’t Dress Like That

Ports of Call is a 1991 novel by Amin Maalouf. The narrative follows a married couple consisting of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman, Ossyane and Clara, who become separated after World War II.

I remember skimming the book and it was mentioned that their love was maybe more powerful than History itself. I guess WW2 did not only break marriages but handicapped generations of people in the simplest everyday task.

Yesterday, I read that the Black Album by Metallica was composed while 3 out of 4 members of the bands were going through divorces. They were emotional wrecks and were trying to make something positive about those feelings of guilt and failure.

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with that blog even though some deemed to be very dark.

Just Jack, Patrolling The Neighbourhood

Balthasar’s Odyssey is a 2000 novel by Maalouf set in 17th century Europe and the Levant. Originally written in French, it was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2004.

The plot concerns the journey of a Genoese librarian living in the town of Gibelet (now Jbeil in Lebanon) named Balthasar who seeks a sacred book The Hundredth Name that is said to contain the unknown and sacred name of God, whose knowledge seems to be the answer for the salvation of souls at Doomsday in the apocalyptic year of 1666. In his trip, Balthasar travels through the Ottoman Empire, to Italy, and London, while experiencing a myriad of problems due to the accursed book.

In 2012, we were going to have a Maya apocalypse if you followed the news carefully. Seems it was another prankster just to seize power though.

Anyway, the name of God is not that difficult to understand. Guess who comes to dinner tonight?

Understanding and Peace Of Mind

As a conclusion, I will talk about one last non-fiction book by Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (historical essay).

As the name suggests, the book is a narrative retelling of primary sources drawn from various Arab chronicles that seek to provide an Arab perspective on the Crusades, and especially regarding the Crusaders – the Franks (Franj), as the Arabs called them – who are considered cruel, savage, ignorant and culturally backward.

Maybe what’s important in reading a book is not the story or what’s going on, but the culture it allows to be initiated with. In France, nobody spoke to us about Central Asia or Persia when we were young. We were told about the Crusades and the Middle Ages. And of course the Mediterranean.

And that’s why I prefer songs to books. It’s because it’s easier to digest. If you have 8 hours to kill, make sure to read a book. Otherwise, maybe you could play Tetris?

If you liked that post or more generally my blog, don’t forget to go to my about page for details on “like, share, comment and donate”. In other words, a book is not easy to digest, maybe a song is better.

Nicolas Sursock

Nicolas is a musician. His work now focuses on digesting 10000 songs of jazz, blues, soul, rock, funk and electronic. He plays the guitar if he's not blogging!