Calligrapher's Secret, The
Rafik Schami; translated from the German by Anthea Bell
published 2011 • 5 1/4" x 8 1/2" • 444 pages
ISBN 9781566568302 • paperback • $20.00 •
"Warmly observed, richly detailed, and often bold and exciting, Schami's fine portrait of life in Damascus, Syria, in the middle of the 20th century is filled with a compelling set of characters. Noura is a Muslim girl who looks like Audrey Hepburn. Rami Arabi, her father, a noted sheikh, is frustrated that those who attend his mosque "treat God like a waiter in a restaurant." Salman is a Christian boy, hated by his drunkard father and devoted to his dog, and to Noura. Nasri Abbani is a wealthy man from an important family, but also a hopeless playboy, his business kept afloat only because of his clever clerk, Tawfiq. When Nasri sets foot in the studio of Hamid Farsi, the leading calligrapher in all of Syria, tragic and wondrous events are set in motion that will affect all in the most emphatic ways. Schami, born in Damascus, is one of Germany's most respected writers, bridging Arab and Western culture with his exquisite storytelling. A novel to be savored"
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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A new international bestseller from the award-winning author of The Dark Side of Love
In the narrow streets of the old city of Damascus, a rumor is circulating: Nura, the beautiful wife of the famous calligrapher Hamid Farsi, has escaped. Why would she leave behind a life envied by so many? Could it be that she was the victim of a kidnapping by one of her husband's enemies?
Even as a young man, Hamid Farsi is acclaimed as a master of the art of calligraphy. But as time goes by, he sees that weaknesses in the Arabic language and its script limit its uses in the modern world. In a secret society, he works out schemes for radical reform, never guessing what risks he is running and how far the purists are willing to go to stop him.
His beautiful wife, Nura, is ignorant of the great plans on her husband's mind. She knows only his cold, avaricious side and so it is no wonder she feels flattered by the attentions of his amusing, lively young apprentice. And so begins a passionate love story-the love of a Muslim woman and a Christian man.
Rafik Schami was born in Damascus in 1946, came to Germany in 1971 and studied chemistry in Heidelberg. Today he is the most successful German-speaking Arabic writer. His novels have been translated into 23 languages and received numerous international awards. His bestselling novel The Dark Side of Love (Interlink, 2009) received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was selected by PW as a Favorite Summer Read.
Anthea Bell has won many awards for her translations; notably for W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz.
"Start off your year... [with] Rafik Schami's superb new novel The Calligrapher's Secret, set in Damascus."
-Elle (Middle East)
"Schami's new novel shows Syrian society in all its colorful facets and touches all the reader's senses."
"'The Calligrapher's Secret' is a huge Syrian tableau!"
-Die Berliner Literaturkritik
"'The Calligrapher's Secret' is an exquisitely colorful universe of stories and a mirror of Syrian society in the 1950s."
-Denis Scheck, ARD Das Erste Television
"What a book! And what a theme that unites it: rebellion against the impossibility of love, against religious hatred, and against intolerance."
"A literary masterpiece... a sensual homage to Damascus... you only wish it were a never-ending story."
—Sabine Tesche, Hamburger Abendblatt
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