Nearer the Heart’s Desire: A Dual Biography of Omar Khayyam and Edward FitzGerald

Robert D. Richardson. Bloomsbury, $22 (208p) ISBN 978-1-62040-653-3
Biographer Richardson (William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism) makes a noble but not wholly successful effort to unite the stories of the great 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam and the 19th-century Englishman who translated him. The first section, dealing with Khayyam, feels sketchy, partly because concrete facts about him are few; indeed, he may not even be responsible for all of the poems credited to him. Consequently, Richardson tries to describe Khayyam’s milieu, though in somewhat cursory fashion. The book’s second half, on translator Edward FitzGerald, finds Richardson on firmer ground, with more source material available to him. FitzGerald was a “perpetual student” who learned Persian for what would be his life’s defining project: a translation of Khayyam’s collected poetry, published with great success in 1859 as The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which FitzGerald revised continually until his death in 1883. Richardson’s portrayal of the Victorian writer and his era is lively, but his examination of Khayyam and the world of medieval Persia offers a tantalizing opening for further studies. Illus. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/07/2016
Release date: 06/14/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Discover what to read next