The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars

Youssef Rakha, trans. from the Arabic by Paul Starkey. Interlink, $19.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-56656-991-0
This complex novel from Rakha (The Crocodiles) is set in 2007, and follows 30-year-old Mustafa Çorbaci, a disgruntled Cairo newspaperman who is having an affair with a woman named Yildiz. Rather impulsively, he divorces his pregnant wife after their one-year marriage. He moves back into his mother’s house, where he writes a series of detailed letters to his émigré friend, the psychiatrist Rashid Jalal Siyouti, who practices in London. Mustafa tells his friend about the nine events he participates in over the next three weeks that reshape his life. The first is his mystical experience of meeting the last Ottoman sultan, who tasks the willing Mustafa to perform a mission that sends him deep into Cairo’s rich Islamic history through different sites in greater Cairo, and Mustafa worries over how to fulfill his quest. Meantime, he quarrels with his confused and alarmed mother when he’s not romancing Claudine, the elder sister of Yildiz. While the “semi-madman” Mustafa may strike some readers as an unsympathetic protagonist, Rakha’s novel is quite inventive, with colorful Ottoman history lending ample pizzazz to the narrative. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/2014
Release date: 11/01/2014
Hardcover - 400 pages - 978-1-56656-916-3
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