Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree
This dramatic family saga set in Muslim Spain evokes a past which has been hidden from history, bringing to life the turbulent period following seven centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula. In this colourful, sensual medieval world we read of book burnings and battles, and meet preachers and bandits, lovers and poets, orthodox believers and cynical sceptics, cooks and family retainers, all living on the edge of a civilization about to be engulfed.
Tariq Ali’s Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree is the first in a planned quartet of historical novels depicting the confrontation between Islamic and Christian civilisations. It has been translated into several languages and was awarded the Archbishop San Clemente del Instituto Rosalia de Castro Prize for the Best Foreign Language Fiction published in Spain in 1994. The second, The Book of Saladin, and the third, The Stone Woman, are also available from alhamra.
Published in Pakistan by agreement with Verso
Praise for Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree
Tariq Ali tells us the story of the aftermath of the fall of Granada by narrating a family sage of those who tried to survive after the collapse of their world. Particularly deft at evoking what life must have been like for those doomed inhabitants, besieged on all sides by intolerant Christendom. This is a novel that have something to say, and says it well." — Guardian
"Tariq Ali captures the humanity and splendour of Muslim Spain ... an enthralling story, unravelled with thrift and verve. Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree is quizzical as well as honest, informative as well as enjoyable, real history as well as fiction ... a book to be relished and devoured." — Independent
"All human frailty and nobility is here . . . an imaginative tour de force." – Sunday Telegraph
The five Christian knights summoned to the apartment of Ximenes de Cisneros did not welcome the midnight call. Their reaction had little to do with the fact that it was the coldest winter in living memory. They were veterans of the Reconquest. Troops under their command had triumphantly marched onto Gharnata seven years before and occupied the city in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella.
None of the five men belonged to the region. The oldest amongst them was the natural son of a monk in Toledo. The others were Castilians and desperate to return to their villages. They were all good Catholics, but did not want their loyalty taken for granted, not even by the Queen's confessor. They knew how he had had himself transferred from Toledo where he was the Archbishop to the conquered city. It was hardly a secret that Cisneros was an instrument of Queen Isabella. He wielded a power that was not exclusively spiritual. The knights were only too well aware how a defiance of his authority would be viewed by the Court.
The five men, wrapped in cloaks but still shivering from the cold, were shown into Cisneros' bed-chamber. The austerity of the living conditions surprised them. Looks were exchanged. For a prince of the Church to inhabit quarter more suited to a fanatical monk was unprecedented. They were not used to a prelate who lived as he preached. Ximenes looked up at them and smiled. The voice which gave them their instructions had no clang of command. The knights were taken aback. The men from Toledo whispered loudly to his companions: 'Isabella has entrusted the keys of the pigeon-house to a cat.'
Cisneors choose to ignore this display of insolence. Instead, he raised his voice slightly.
This was not strictly true, but soldiers were not accustomed to questioning those in authority. Once he was satisfied that his instruction had been fully understood, the Archbishop dismissed them. He wanted to make it clear that the cowl was in command of the sword. A week later, on the first day of December in the year 1499, Christian soldiers under the command of five knight-commanders entered the one hundred and ninety-five libraries of the city and a dozen mansions where some of the better-known private collections were housed. Everything written in Arabic was confiscated.
The day before, scholars in the service of the Church had convinced Cisneros to exempt three hundred manuscripts from his edict. He had agreed, provided they were placed in the new library he was preparing to endow in Alcala. The bulk of these were Arab manuals of medicine and astronomy. They represented the major advances in these and related sciences since the days of antiquity. Here was much of the material which had travelled from the peninsula of al-Andalus as well as Sicily to the rest of Europe and paved the way for Renaissance.
Several thousand copies of the Koran, together with learned commentaries and theological and philosophical reflections on its merits and demerits, all crafted in the most exquisite calligraphy, were carted away indiscriminately by the men in uniform. Rare manuscripts vital to the entire architecture of intellectual life in al-Andalus, were crammed in makeshift bundles on the back of soldiers.
Throughout the day the soldiers constructed a rampart of hundreds of thousands of manuscripts. The collective wisdom of the entire peninsula lay in the old silk market below the Bab al-Ramla.
This was the ancient space where once Moorish knights used to ride and joust to catch the eye of their ladies; where the populace would assemble in large numbers, children riding on the shoulders of fathers, uncles and elder brothers as they cheered their favourites; where catcalls greeted the appearance of those who paraded in the armour of knights simply because they were creatures of the Sultan. When it was clear that a brave man had allowed one of the courtiers to win out of deference to the King or, just as likely, because he had promised a purse full of gold dinars, the citizens of Gharnata jeered loudly. It was a citizenry well known for its independence of mind, rapier wit, and reluctance to recognize superiors. This was the city and this the place chosen by Cisneros for his demonstration of fireworks that night.
© Tariq Ali