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The Calligrapher's Secret
RRP: Price: £17.99
Haus Price: £13.99 Friends of Haus: £13.49
UK & Commonwealth
New Titles, Arabia Books
By Rafik Schami
Even as a young man, Hamid Farsi is acclaimed as a master of the art of calligraphy. But as time goes by, he sees that weakness in the Arabic language and its script limit its uses in the modern world. In a secret society, he works out schemes for radical reform, never guessing what risks he is running.
His beautiful wife, Noura, is ignorant of the great plans on her husband's mind. She knows only his cold avaricious side. No wonder she feels flattered by the attentions of his amusing, lively young apprentice. And so begins a passionate love story - the love of a Muslim woman and a Christian man.
Rafik Schami, born in Syria but living in political exile in Germany since 1970, is the author of The Dark Side of Love and winner of numerous international prizes.
Schami's previous novel, The Dark Side of Love, was longlisted for the 2010 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Translated by Anthea Bell
Praise for The Dark Side of Love: 'The Great Arab novel, without ifs, buts, or equivocations..' - The Guardian
On 15th October 2010 Arabia Books published The Calligrapher's Secret by the acclaimed Syrian writer Rafik Schami. This booklet includes an introductory essay on the political and social history of the Arabic script by Rafik Schami, as well as an extract from his new novel.
Click here to view the booklet.
Click here to view an online sample of the book.
A great review in Publishers Weekly:
'Warmly observed, richly detailed, and often bold and exciting, Schami's fine portrait of life in
Ostensibly, The Calligrapher's Secret is a Bildungsroman charting the lives of Salman, a Christian, Noura, the daughter of a Sheikh, and Hamid Farsi, Noura's husband, an ambitious and cold-hearted calligrapher. The story begins with Noura's disappearance - which neighbours blame on Abbani, a wealthy philanderer who has been sending love letters to Noura using the services of her own husband, the most famous practitioner of his art. Unbeknownst to Abbani and Farsi, Noura has been having an affair with Salman, a young man introduced into Farsi's studio to spy on the calligrapher, who through his leadership of the secret 'Society of the Wise', is planning to revolutionize Arabic script.
The novel's main subject, however, is the Arabic language, which although it is spoken by 300 million people, does not reproduce sounds such as P, O, W or E, and as a result has to adopt entire words (particularly technical ones) wholesale from either Latin or English. As a former trainee calligrapher, Schami is awake to such shortfalls, and he is an eloquent voice for reform. He has strewn his book with charming details: The calligraphers, we learn, 'wrote letters to husbands or wives with a copper pen, to friends and lovers with a silver pen, to particularly important people with a golden pen, to a promised bride with the beak of a stork, and to enemies and adversaries with a pen carved from a pomegranate twig'.
The background to this bold and political novel is cosmopolitan: Jews, Armenians, Arabs and Iranians live cheek by jowl in Schami's Damascus. Finely rendered into English by Anthea Bell, The Calligrapher's Secret is a celebration of diversity. Rightly so; after all, as Serani, Farsi's old master points out: 'the Quran was revealed in Mecca and Medina, recorded in Baghdad, recited in Egypt, but written most beautifully of all in Istanbul'. - André Naffis-Sahely, TLS