Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Calligrapher's Secret by Rafik Schami

Schami’s intricately woven tale of mid-twentieth-century Damascus is brimming with love and jealousy, prejudice, politics, and intrigue. His lively cast of characters includes Hamid Farsi, a renowned Muslim calligrapher, and his wife, Nura, a talented dressmaker and daughter of a famous scholar. Nasri Albani, widely known as a philanderer, is obsessed with Nura. And there’s Salman, a poor Christian youth who becomes Hamid’s assistant, learning the calligrapher’s art from the ground up. Hamid’s talents place his work in high demand, but when he detects weaknesses in the Arabic language, and secretly seeks to make radical reforms, he comes under the purists’ scrutiny. Though Hamid is famous, he remains a stranger to Nura long after their wedding day, leaving her isolated. Until one day she disappears, setting in motion a series of events that, like a whirlpool, never stops swirling until the novel’s end. A captivating and enlightening read, enriched by the sights, sounds, and sensuality of Damascus, and by the author making his mark by bridging the Arab world of his upbringing with his adopted home in the West.

From Booklist vol 107, number 12

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