Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds

Natalie Zemon Davis, Author . Hill & Wang $27.50 (435p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9434-9

Davis (The Return of Martin Guerre ) performs a sterling service in disentangling the twisted threads of al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan's fascinating life. Better known in the West as Leo Africanus, he was one of the Renaissance's greatest geographers and the author of a Europe-wide bestseller, The Description of Africa (1550). Born a Muslim in Granada in 1492, al-Hasan al-Wazzan traveled widely as an ambassador and merchant throughout Africa, a continent then a mystery to Europeans, but was captured by Spanish pirates in 1518, presented to Pope Leo X and ostensibly converted to Christianity while explaining Islam to his bewildered audience. Al-Hasan al-Wazzan had the (mis)fortune to live in "interesting times": the Ottomans were on the march, the Habsburgs were on the rise and the Protestants were alarming the pope, yet al-Hasan al-Wazzan managed to flit among a myriad of worlds (including, Davis speculates, taking a formerly Jewish wife). Eventually, he returned to a North Africa riven by turmoil and slaughter, and disappeared from our view. He rose above hard-drawn lines and presented "himself simply as an independent polymath," says Davis, and his life provides a lesson in the "possibility of communication and curiosity in a world divided by violence." 16 pages of b&w illus., 2 maps. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/30/2006
Release date: 03/01/2006
Hardcover - 435 pages - 978-0-571-20256-0
Paperback - 435 pages - 978-0-571-23479-0
Paperback - 435 pages - 978-0-8090-9435-6
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-1-4668-2930-5
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!