Leo Africanus Book Review

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  • Topic: Amin Maalouf, Moors, Rome
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Leo Africanus Book Review

Leo Africanus By, Amin Maalouf

In the book Leo Africanus it is a fictionalized biography of a real person, Hasan al- Wazzan. Hasan and his family were forced to flee to Fez, where he grew up and became a very well-off merchant. The book really gives a clear picture of his family life as a child, his education, his marriages, his travels, and his bitter- sweet reminiscence of exile.

The narrator of Amin Maalouf's historical novel, Hasan al-Wazzan - who came to be named Leo Africanus - was born in 1488, in the weakening days of Moorish Granada. At the age of 4, Hasan and his family went into exile, like many other Muslims and Jews who declined to accept the new faith and managed to flee from the extended arm of the Inquisition. The family settled in Fez, Morocco, where many Granadans had found place of safety and felt that one day they would be able to come back to Granada from what they once remembered it thinking that the Sultan will make everything better.

The novel is told with great humbleness, by an old man, Hasan, reflecting about the forty years he had lived in four cities around the Mediterranean: Granada, where he was born, Fez, where he faces misfortune, Cairo, where he recovers and finally Rome, where he meets the Pope. Granada is a mixed community, where Leo and his family were simply to be thrown out, along with all the Jews, during the purges where the Spanish had taken over. In Granada, prior to its fall, the author presents the split that still seems to bother the modern Muslim world: it is between those who would seek to adapt to and learn from the modern world and learn a new religion while preserving their faith and those for whom any compromise to change their religion and their life and the tracking down of belief is life and death.

Arrived in Fez, Leo Africanus and his family found themselves a part of a large community of recent exiles from Spain who were settling in large numbers in the...
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