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

  • A suicide note to Trotsky that displayed political passions we should not forget

    August 23, 2013

    Tariq Ali discusses “The Last Words of Adolf Abramovich Joffe” as part of the Guardian’s “A Book That Changed Me” series.

    A year and a half ago Lucio Magri, one of Italy’s most respected leftwing intellectuals, flew to Switzerland, entered a clinic and drank the fatal hemlock; in his case it meant swallowing a death pill. For a few days most of Italy was in shock. Suddenly Magri was everywhere. Parliament observed a minute’s silence, newspaper comment was broadly sympathetic, but his closest friends were unhappy. His wife had died after a long illness two years earlier, and had discouraged Magri from following suit, insisting that he finish his book on the fate of Italian communism. With The Tailor of Ulm completed and published, he decided to say farewell to life. The loss of his wife was the trigger,  …

  • ‘Short Cuts’

    November 19, 2009

    ‘Short Cuts’ by Tariq Ali for The London Review of Books, November 19, 2009

    It’s been a bad autumn for Nato in Afghanistan, with twin disasters on the political and military fronts. First, Kai Eide, the UN headman in Kabul, a well-meaning, but not very bright Norwegian, fell out with his deputy, Peter Galbraith, who as the de facto representative of the US State Department had decreed that President Karzai’s election was rigged and went public about it. His superior continued to defend Hamid Karzai’s legitimacy. Astonishingly, the UN then fired Galbraith. This caused Hillary Clinton to move into top gear and the UN-supported electoral watchdog now ruled that the elections had indeed been fraudulent and ordered a run-off. Karzai refused to replace the electoral officials who had done such a good job for him the first time and  …