A Sultan in Palermo – Islam Quintet IV

Published by Verso, 2005

The fourth and penultimate novel in Tariq Ali’s celebrated Islam Quintet

A Sultan in Palermo is set in medieval Palermo, a Muslim city rivaling Baghdad and Cordoba in size and splendor. The year is 1153. The Normans are ruling Siqqiliya, but Arab culture and language dominate the island and the court. Sultan Rujari (King Roger) surrounds himself with Muslim intellectuals, several concubines, and an administration presided over by gifted eunuchs. The bishops, expecting to be at the pinnacle of power, are angered by the decadence of the court. In this captivating novel, Tariq Ali charts the life and loves of the medieval cartographer Muhammed al-Idrisi. Torn between his close friendship with the sultan and his friends who are leaving the island or plotting a resistance to Norman rule, Idrisi finds temporary solace in the harem; but, confronted by the common people of Noto and Catania, his conscience is troubled. A Sultan in Palermo is a mythic novel in which pride, greed, and lust intermingle with resistance and greatness. Though set in the past, it has haunting resonance today.

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Reviews: The Guardian, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs