This is a blog about my reads as well as everything related to them.
My taste is for good quality literature - old and new. Some of it I review here or on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany.
The Calligrapher’s Secret by Rafik Schami
Rafik Schami (رفيق شامي) is a friend of Damascus and also a friend from the Syrian capital as his Arabic penname proves when translated into English. He loves telling stories and taking his readers to the Damascus of his childhood and before. Consequently his novel The Calligrapher’s Secret is set there.
The Calligrapher’s Secret begins in April 1957 when rumour spreads in Damascus that Noura, the beautiful wife of the famous and rich calligrapher Hamid Farsi, has run away. In an Arabic, more precisely a Muslim environment this is a life-threatening crime for a woman to commit, even more so in the novel’s time period. People say that Noura felt insulted by the ardent love letters from Nasri Abbani which the womanizer known all over town and almost illiterate had ordered from her unknowing husband to seduce her, but there’s much more behind it. Her fairly modern education and a strong will to take life into her own hands play an important role just like her encounter with her husband’s Christian apprentice and errand-boy Salman. And then there’s Hamid Farsi’s passion for Arabic calligraphy and his attempt to reform the script which leads to his disgrace and subsequent fall.
It’s a complex and interlocked story which Rafik Schami unfolds in The Calligrapher’s Secret. The book is a little different from what we are used to today, since its author isn’t just a novelist, but a story-teller who combines the best of Arabic oral tradition and western literary skill. Language and style are modern and accessible. The setting gives the novel the touch of a fairy-tale from the Arabian Nights. At the same time Rafik Schami isn’t sparing of criticism.
I passed a good time reading The Calligrapher’s Secret. For me it has been a very enjoyable read which helped me to understand the Arabic mind a little better. Highly recommended.