READING any work by Tariq Ali is a treat, be it politics or fiction. Ali’s readers know that his deep knowledge of history isn’t limited to the Middle East and Europe, but extends to South Asia and the Americas as well, with forays into the rest of the world. A favorite subject—and clearly a crucial one in today’s world—is the convergence of the Christian and Islamic worlds.
In the first three novels of Ali’s “Islam Quintet,” the Muslim and Christian religions cross paths in the fall of Al Andalus/Reconquista Spain (Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree), in the Crusades (The Book of Saladin) and in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire (The Stone Woman). In A Sultan of Palermo, the long-awaited fourth volume, Ali revisits the medieval era, this time in Sicily—and during a less well-known period of tension between Islam and Christianity. Ali’s subtlety in introducing readers—who may just want to enjoy a good read—both to little known aspects of Islamic culture (at least to his U.S. audiences) and to various historic clashes of Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms, provide a context in which to view the current political situation. Nor does Ali resort to didacticism, instead treating his readers to tales of love and death, power and suspense, human frailty and great courage. read more