cover image Moving the Palace

Moving the Palace

Charif Majdalani, trans. from the French by Edward Gauvin. New Vessel, $16.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-939931-46-7

Samuel Ayyad, a Lebanese Protestant, becomes obsessed with transporting a disassembled palace across the Middle East in this charming and gently humorous historical novel. In the early 20th century, Samuel moves to Sudan to seek wealth using his language skills to interpret for the British army. While traveling to shore up British dominance of the region, he meets a merchant trying to find a buyer for the small palace he has purchased, taken apart, and strapped to the backs of a caravan of camels. Taken with this project, Samuel becomes a partner and uses British army gold to grease enough local gears to avoid violence and theft. As the caravan drivers and even the merchant lose faith in the quest, Samuel decides to take the palace back home to Lebanon, only to be stymied by the outbreak of World War I. Majdalani’s writing sparkles as he relates Samuel’s picaresque and often funny schemes to get back to Lebanon through hostile territory. The narrator, Samuel’s grandchild, periodically interjects to offer just enough history of the region to keep less familiar readers on track. Those looking for an enjoyable and brisk literary adventure will be very satisfied. (Apr.)