Monday, July 30, 2007


When we left Dubai, I wanted to buy a parting gift for myself; something uniquely Middle Eastern. So I picked up this book: the english translation (the original is in french) of Amin Maalouf's historical novel 'Samarkand'. And wow, what a great book it turned out to be!

Maalouf has taken the historical facts from 12th century Persia & used beautiful imaginative threads of fiction to connect them. Omar Khayyam, the celebrated 12th century Persian poet, philosopher & mathematician is the main character of this tale. The story traces the birth of Khayyam's famous book of persian poetry called Rubaiyat which earned him praise from many intellectuals & wrath of many religious zealots. As the legend goes, Khayyam was being tried by a qadi (a religious judge) for his supposedly 'un-islamic' verses; but instead finds a friend and sympathiser in the qadi who explains to Khayyam that the world is not yet ready for his philosophy & urges him to write down his private thoughts in a small notebook. This was the beginnning of the Rubaiyat. The book follows the manuscript of the Rubaiyat all the way to 19th century Persia through the revolution & the resultant democracy.

Here's a quatrain from Khayyam's Rubaiyat that I liked :)

"I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul returned to me,
And answered "I Myself am Heaven and Hell"


suramya said...

I've always been a fan of khayyam, that is the snatches of poetruy that I have read, I must pick up this book, seems to be a really interesting read

Moi said...

the best gifts are the ones, i guess one gives to oneself :)
lovely quote, Radha.

the title Samarkand reminds me of this awesome restaurant in Bangalore by the same name... if you ever make your way to the city, don't forget to "do" this place ...the boti and gulati kebabs there will simply melt in your mouth...oh boy i'm hungry!!!

Kanishka Agiwal said...

Now this is very very weird...I did not get a single update from my Google reader that you have a new post..infact was down on the site to ask you to put in a new post when I saw this!!! You have moved to Singapore?? when why how?? Oh well let me read the remaining posts and come back.

Kanishka Agiwal said...

Ok..Mr.Google Reader points to UAE community blog when I put in your site address. Some problem I guess.

The best gifts are those that one gifts oneself free of cost. It comes without any guilty conscience and subsequent savings to make up.

And I agree..the restaurant in Blore is just awesome even for veg food. Love it.

Lotus Reads said...

What a great book to pick as a souvenir! Every time I travel I buy books by local authors just like one would buy post cards! :)

The book sounds like a must-read. My parents were great fans of the Persian poets so we always had Khayyam's poetry books around the house. I will be adding this to my list for sure. Thank you for the review,Radha!

lalunadiosa said...

The book sounds wonderful - added it to my list!

Radha said...

If you like his poetry, you should read this book. Did you know that the Rubaiyat was first published many centuries after Khayyam's death?

Persian place in Bangalore? Sounds interesting. You know the last (and only time) I visited Bangalore was when I was 15 years old!

You're talking tech-speak to the wrong person! Whats google-reader?? I moved to Singapore last week (when); we've relocated here for what we thought were better job opportunities (why) and we flew here by Emirates (how). :))

Lotus, Lalunadiosa,
I really liked the book; especially how it evoked the image of old-world Persia. I would recommend it if you're in a mood to read some Middle East history mixed with regular fiction.

Keshi said...

WOW so profound!


Radha said...

True. Khayyam was deceptively profound. His poetry revolved around materialism, but were spiritual at the core. He believed in living for the moment, not for after life.

Destitute Rebel said...

sounds like a great book, i have to go on a book shopping spree soon, love khayyam, amazing rubaiyaat.

Radha said...

D Reb,
Have you read Rubaiyat? In original persian or the english translation? I believe urdu and persian are close cousins; can you read persian script?

Lotus Reads said...

Radha, forgot to mention, the book I am reading now, Thrity Umrigar's "If TOday Be Sweet" is filled with quotes and verses from Khayyam, even the title of the book has been borrowed from one of this poems. Some synchronicity, huh? :)

Megster said...

Wow..I def. want to read this book now! Sounds lovely...

diyadear said...

hey radha,
nice souvenier ;) lots of books abt persia to be heard of these days.. interesting..

Happy Reader said...

Radha- Lovely post! As Lotus mentioned, the khayyam verses reminds me of "If Today be sweet" a book I recently read. I was so intrigued after reading that book, that I was craving for more of Khayyam. Looks like this might be a good read. Thank you for bringing this book to our attention!

mookuthi said...

hi radha:)
Seems like a great book.... feel like reading the book right now. Iam busy with exams till the 10th then iam going to jump straight ahead and read this book.

AlterinG Abhishek said...

this is real good

and wow what fun u must be having in singapore!!

its a superb place to be ..
though too well policed!!!

Radha said...

Wierd conincidence :))

Hey how have you been sweetie?

Its a lovely book. Which other Persian book are you referring to? Are you reading one as well?

Happy Reader,
Hi! I shd take up 'If Today Be Sweet'. have you reviewed it?

Good luck with your exams! And come back to blogging as soon as they're over :)

Well, you're right, Singapore is a great city. And extremely well-policed (which I dont always necessarily like!)

Parth said...

The collection is beautiful and I wonder how much was lost in translation. Reached your blog through Lotus's.

Radha said...

Hi, welcome to this blog. I havent read the Rubaiyat yet; but I'm told its a lot better read in Persian.

Jas Bhambra said...

I haven't read Khayyam at all. But a lovely quote for sure. I have had thie book "Essential Rumi" for a long time and i haven'thad a chance to read it yet (along with many other books that are gathering dust, but no time to read).

And lol@ your explanation to Kanishka's when why and how. :)

Radha said...

Well I have never read any Persian poetry; and maybe thats why I found this story of a Persian poet so fascinating!! I only read a few verses from Rabaiyat which have been quoted in this book, but thats abt my only exposure to Persian poetry :)

Keshi said...

** He believed in living for the moment, not for after life.

Im not a great poet like Khayyam but I believe in that too! Living for the moment.


suramya said...

yes :), had to memorise that fact for a history exam. now that u hve rekindled my interest I must delve into it.

Radha said...

Me too :)

You learnt that in Engg school? I didnt know it.
I thought it was incredible that people in the 19th century found poetry written hundreds of years before & its ideas were often 'too modern' even in that century.

Thrity Umrigar said...

Hi--This is Thrity Umrigar, the author of IF TODAY BE SWEET, the novel that some of you mentioned in connection with the discussion of The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam. I discovered Khayyam's poetry when I was a teenager and fell in love with it. When I was writing Sweet, his basic life philosophy seemed perfect for what I was trying to say in the novel.
I've never posted a blog entry before but was so intrigued by your comments that I had to write. Thanks, Thrity

Radha said...

Oh my God!! I'm so thrilled to see you here! Thanks for dropping by.
I'm picking up a copy of IF TODAY BE SWEET today itself! :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Radha!

How awesome that Ms. Umrigar commented on your blog, lucky you! I read "If Today Be Sweet" and enjoyed it will too!

BTW, on your recommendation I picked up "The Yacoubian Building" and enjoyed it thoroughly. I read it on the flight from London to Montreal and it kept me great company, thanks!

Radha said...

Hey, look fwd to your thoughts on The Yacoubian Building