Maalouf’s Samarkand: ‘words to scorn are scatter’d, and mouths stopt with dust.’

The Immortals

That's How The Light Gets In

Rubaiyat Folio edition 1955

Sometimes in Samarkand, in the evening of a slow and dreary day, city dwellers would come to while the time away at the dead-end Street of Two Taverns, near the pepper market. They came not to taste the musky wine of Soghdia but to watch the comings and goings or to waylay a carouser who would then be forced down into the dust, showered with insults, and cursed into a hell whose fire, until the end of all time, would recall the ruddiness of the wine’s enticements. Out of such an incident the manuscript of the Rubaiyaat was to be born in the summer of 1072.

These are the first sentences of Samarkand, an early novel by Amin Maalouf that I read recently, drawn to it because in it, Maalouf weaves together fact and fiction in a story that has at its heart the Rubaiyaat of Omar Khayyam, written…

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