Sidharth Vardhan

Samarkand – A Review of Amin Maalouf Book

Samarkand sidharth vardhan review analysis amin maalouf
Published: 1988
Accused of mocking the inviolate codes of Islam, the Persian poet and sage Omar Khayyam fortuitously finds sympathy with the very man who is to judge his alleged crimes. Recognising genuis, the judge decides to spare him and gives him instead a small, blank book, encouraging him to confine his thoughts to it alone. Thus begins the seamless blend of fact and fiction that is Samarkand. Vividly re-creating the history of the manuscript of the Rubaiyaat…

(A review of Samarkand,
a novel by Amin Maalouuf
First reviewed on May 6, 2019)

"Omar Khayyam mourned his disciple with the same dignity, the same resignation and the same discreet agony as he had mourned other friends. ‘We were drinking the same wine, but they got drunk two or three rounds before me.’"

Amin Maalouf (Samarkand)

Among other things, this book has among its motifs - Omar Khayyam, Hassan-i Sabbah, Persian liberation efforts at the beginning of 20th century, Titanic, Mongols etc.

Omar Khayyam Samarkand Amin Maahalouf Sidharth Vardhan review analysis
Omar Khayyam

Have you ever detests the 'x' of algebra during your math classes, well Omar Khayyam is the source of that 'x'.

"to represent the unknown in this treatise on algebra, Khayyam used the Arabic term shay, which means thing. This word, spelled xay in Spanish scientific works, was gradually replaced by its first letter, x, which became the universal symbol for the unknown."

Amin Maalouf (Samarkand)

He was a polymath - a true polymath, not one of the modern-day self-claimed ones who learn basics of many fields without mastering any. Omar wrote thesis in maths and astronomy and wrote incredible poems famous all over the world - and that had a really strong influence on sufi poems - even though he himself was far less submissive to God:

"I am not one of those for whom faith is simply fear of judgement. How do I pray? I study a rose, I count the stars, I marvel at the beauty of creation and how perfectly ordered it is, at man, the most beautiful work of the Creator, his brain thirsting for knowledge, his heart for love, and his senses, all his senses alert or gratified.’ "

Amin Maalouf (Samarkand)

Hasan-i-Sabah is the one who started the 'order of assassins' - the expert murders; from whose popularity the English words for assassination and assassin are driven; and which also seem to hold genes for suicidal terrorist bombers.

Hasan-i-Sabah Samarkand Amin Maahalouf Sidharth Vardhan review analysis

"How can precautions be taken against a man intent on dying? All protection is based upon dissuasion, and we know that important personages are surrounded by an imposing guard whose role is to make any potential attacker fear inevitable death. But what if the attacker is not afraid of dying, and has been convinced that martyrdom is a short-cut to paradise?"

Amin Maalouf (Samarkand)

The book deals with the fate of a book having the same name as the tile of the book - Samarkand which is the only copy of the manuscript in which Omar wrote his poems (the ones that are popular now only survive in memories of people, who had seen this manuscript.

Some Quotes

A ruler when announcing the end of rule of ultra-religious 'Order of Assassins':

"Since we are now in Paradise and in permanent contact with the Creator, we no have any need to address Him at fixed times; those who persist in making the five prayers show thereby how little they believe in the Resurrection. Prayer has become an act of unbelief.’

Amin Maalouf (Samarkand)

"Cancer, cancer, cancer,’ he repeated as if in warning. ‘In the past doctors attributed illnesses to the conjunctions of the stars, but only cancer has kept its astrological name, in all languages. The fear is still there.’"

Amin Maalouf (Samarkand)

Amin Maalouf Sidharth Vardhan review analysis
Amin Maalouf

An admirable example of political tolerance in Persia:

"Taking refuge, or taking bast as the Persians say, means giving oneself over to a strictly passive resistance in the shelter of a sanctuary of which there were several in the area of Teheran: the mausoleum of Shah Adbul-Azim, the royal stables, and the smallest bast of all, the wheeled cannon in Topkhane Square – if a fugitive clung to it, the forces of order no longer had any right to lay hands on him."

Amin Maalouff (Samarkand)

And finally, there is no other way to end a book on Omar except with one of his poems:

"We are the pawns, and Heaven is the player;
This is plain truth, and not a mode of speech.
We move about the chessboard of the world.
Then drop into the casket of the void. "

Amin Maalouf (Samarkand)

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