Dar Arab has just published Christiaan James’ crisp translation of Mohammed AlAjmi historical-adventure novel The Secret of the Morisco. An excerpt is now available in the publisher’s website.
The publisher writes:
The Secret of the Morisco is a picaresque tale of Robert, a young Englishman taken captive by the Spanish Armada in the 17th century, as he sails home after procuring an Arabic printing press in the Netherlands. Thrown into prison for nothing more than his own bad luck, Robert befriends a Christianised Moor, Yusuf, who cautiously recounts the story of his family’s flight from Spain following the Edict of Expulsion in 1609 and divulges the existence of lost Arabic manuscripts, setting Robert off on an adventure taking him from Spain to Holland, Italy, and Ottoman Syria in search of the invaluable trove.
More than a thrilling story about the emergence of the Arabic printing press or lost manuscripts, The Secret of the Morisco draws heavily on events from the Scientific Revolution, the Thirty Years’ War, and the often turbulent relations with the Ottoman Empire to highlight a period of intense cultural interaction and increasing competition between Europe and the Islamic world. Memoir-like and written from Robert’s perspective, the novel interrogates notions of belonging, the permeability of boundaries, and the ambiguous dichotomy between East and West. Deeply researched and easily accessible to the general reader, The Secret of the Morisco is historical fiction at its finest and offers a unique perspective on a critical period of history.
The book is indeed a fun historical mystery. It opens:
The ship made its way out to sea, slowly giving those standing on the dock one last chance to say their final goodbyes to loved ones as they departed Holland. Wearing his tall black hat, Mr. Jos barked at the stevedores, commanding them to bring back the carts they had used to haul the printing-press crates onto the ship. I had failed in my attempts to chip away at Mr. Jos’ stubbornness, to convince him to sell us only the punches and matrices, but he insisted we purchase the entire press itself. He wasn’t one to leave things to chance. And though I tried to tell him that the taxes would be exorbitant if I bought the entire apparatus, he simply responded that there were numerous ways to lower the tax burden (and even get around it altogether), but who would buy half a press from him?!
Read the excerpt now on Dar Arab’s website.