Destination: The Middle East and Jerusalem
Book: Shadow of the Swords: An Epic Novel of the Crusades (NEW June 2010) by Kamran Pasha
How you think depends on what stories you have heard. There is, as they say, more than one side to a story. His year I have already read three sides to the story of Richard the Lionheart.
And now, Shadow of the Sword tells us of Richard the Lionheart as seen by Saladin during his Crusades to the Holy Land. Kamran Pasha wrote the book soon after 9-11 because he believed the story parallels today’s struggle between two cultures.
In my view, this book cannot decide if it wants to be a Harlequin Romance or a novel about super-adventure heroes. Which is not so surprising when you notice that Pasha was a writer on the Bionic Woman remake.
I looked forward to an account of the Crusades from the Muslim point of view. Instead, the author (or his editors) have descended to emphasizing blood lust (rippling muscles) and sexual lust (heaving bosoms) to get attention rather than trust the reader to think more seriously about the implications of the Crusades on our world today.
The major characters, of course, are Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the great Muslim leader. Moses Maimonides, the Jewish doctor who became an adviser to Saladin, intrigued me and the portrayal tempts me to pick up Maimonides writings, particularly The Guide for the Perplexed (which is available on the web).
Along with some thoroughly nasty sidekicks on both sides, the author creates two pivotal characters who have no historical reality. One is the beautiful and intelligent Miriam, niece of Maimonides who becomes Saldin’s lover, and the other, William, the conscience of Richard the Lionheart.
Perhaps the most arresting statement comes when the fictional William discusses with Maimonides the history of the great religions. The Jews once ruled, but lost out to the Christians and the Jews. Now the Arabian civilization had risen above the “Barbarian” European Christians. (Both sides, of course, think of the other as Barbarian and non-believers. Sound familiar?)
William says, “Perhaps there will come a time when the West will be powerful again and the Arabs will fight to restore their lost glory.”
Author Pasha has Maimonides disagree, saying, “You can always dream, my friend. You can always dream….No, the era of the Christians was at an end even as the day of the Jews were long concluded in the scrolls of history.”
I have no doubt that Richard the Lionheart was not the guy you would pick to go on a tour–or to a football game– with. He must have been ruthless and endlessly aggressive in order to act with the single mindedness that got him his reputation for bravery. I don’t know if Saladin was entirely the paragon of virtue portrayed here. But because of the obvious flights of fancy and exaggerations, I simply did not trust the book’s portrayal of history. I think the author missed an opportunity to present a very thoughtful contrast that might help people in the Western world today understand the still simmering resentment felt over the Crusades in the Middle East.
On the other hand, as a traveler, if you are visiting Jerusalem, this might be a good book to add to your book bag. For all the Jewish and Christian history abundantly available in Israel, it is sometimes difficult to learn about the Arab past. And if you are fascinated by the strategy used to fight wars, there’s a look at the generals behind the scenes. (Again, if you can trust it to be true.)
I will leave it up to you to judge whether you will find this book intriguing enough to overlook some of its flaws.
The book was furnished by the publisher for review and the photos above are from Flickr, used by Creative Commons license. Please click on the photos to learn more about the setting and the photographer.
In a post last year about Israel, I suggested Leon Uris’ Exodus, the Bible and Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem. Do you have other books that have helped you get a handle on Jerusalem and Israel?