Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Samarkand (Amin Maalouf)

Two historical novels in one – the first a bit stronger than the second


Title: Samarkand
Author: Amin Maalouf
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
First published: 1988
Edition: Paperback, published by Abacus in 1994

(translated from French by Russell Harris)

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 Khayyam’s genius, the judge decides to spare him and gives him instead a small, bleak 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 of Omar Khayyam, Amin Maalouf spans continents and centuries with breath-taking vision: the dusky exoticism of 11th-century Persia, with its poetesses and assassins; the same country’s struggles nine hundred years later, seen through the eyes of an American academic obsessed with finding the original manuscript.


If a book is set in the historic Middle East, then chances are I will pick it up. I got my hands on this one earlier this year and I felt a sudden urge to read it.

The historical fiction novel is centred around actual people, actual places and events that took place in what now is mostly Iran, though Samarkand itself is in present-day Uzbekistan.

The first part of the book deals with the story of Omar Khayyam, a poet, mathematician and astronomer born in Iran.This novel’s focus is his Rubaiyat. It’s the red thread that connects the first half of the novel to the second half, which is centred around an American man with a special connection to Khayyam’s poetry.

To me the first half that dealt with Omar Khayyam set in 11th century Persia spoke to me more than the second half. In the second half I lost my way a bit in terms of enjoyment every now and then. Overall the second half held up, but I definitely preferred the first half. Side not: the ending is definitely interesting!

I am not sure who I would recommend this one to. It’s not fast paced. It’s historically interesting, but I don’t think the writing will be for everyone, especially not if you only tend to read more modern writers. Having said that, I like Malouf’s writing and I am looking forward to reading more of this author’s work. I have two more books on my shelf, one fiction, one non-fiction.

6 out of 7 stars

CAWPILE score: 7.8

  • Characters: 8
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Writing Style: 8
  • Plot: 7.5
  • Intrigue: 8
  • Logic: 7.5
  • Enjoyment: 8

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s