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

From the archive

  • Trotskyist or Trotskyish?

    September 3, 2010

    ‘Trotsky: past, present… future?’ an interview with Tariq Ali by Kirsty Jane for Vulpes Libris, September 3, 2010

    A leading figure of the Trotskyist movement in the sixties and seventies, Tariq Ali’s engagement with Trotsky goes far beyond party politics. Kirsty Jane met up with him at the Edinburgh Book Festival, where he was presenting his new novel Night of the Golden Butterfly, to talk about old friends… and new strategies.

    You mentioned in Street Fighting Years that you first read Isaac Deutscher’s biography of Trotsky when you were ill in bed (and I wish I hadn’t known the rather TMI details of that… you’ve scarred me for life). How, then, did you begin to read Trotsky? What was your first contact with him?

    After reading the Deutscher trilogy, I was just quite naturally drawn to read the  …

  • Obama at War: The Brooklyn Rail interviews Tariq Ali

    April 9, 2010

    An interview with Tariq Ali by Theodore Hamm and Christian Parenti for The Brooklyn Rail, April 9, 2010

    Rail: What do you make of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recent observation that an “amazing” number of innocent Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S. forces? That fact is not surprising—but shouldn’t such high-level acknowledgment of it provoke real opposition to the war?

    Tariq Ali: It should but it won’t because North American and European citizens (the latter in large majorities) who oppose the war feel disempowered. In the U.S., of course, Obama promised to escalate the war, an election pledge he has carried out with a vengeance and unless directly affected—as in the days of the draft—liberal Americans don’t care that much if foreigners are being killed. McChrystal’s remarks were designed largely for consumption in Afghanistan: he was simultaneously appealing  …