Balthasar's Odyssey


An ambitious, stunning new novel by Goncourt Prize–winner Amin Maalouf, set in the tumultuous, fateful Year of the Beast.
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Balthasar's Odyssey

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An ambitious, stunning new novel by Goncourt Prize–winner Amin Maalouf, set in the tumultuous, fateful Year of the Beast.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Maalouf (In the Name of Identity, etc.) takes his readers on a long, meandering literary journey in his latest historical novel, which revolves around the quest to find a book supposedly published during the days of the Ottoman Empire. The tome in question promises to reveal the 100th name of God, a revelation that could save the world from an apocalyptic meltdown as the year 1666 approaches. Curio shop owner Balthasar Embriaco, a Genoan living in the Levant, is the passionate but pedantic narrator who finds his life turned upside down when The Hundredth Name comes into his possession. Balthasar is skeptical about the book's authenticity, but he instantly regrets selling it for a significant sum to an emissary of the king of France, who quickly spirits the book off to Constantinople. The quest to recover the book turns into a labyrinthine effort to protect Balthasar's newfound love, a woman named Marta, who is on a quest of her own to find news of her long-lost husband. Balthasar is crushed when Marta reunites with her mate, but he travels on to London, where he finally locates the tome-only to discover that his health deteriorates every time he tries to translate it. Maalouf's initial conceit is promising, but too many of the plot twists turn into tangents, and the nebulous resolution of both subplots further dilutes the overall impact. Despite the narrative flaws, however, Maalouf has considerable success using cultural details to create an authentic atmosphere, and the novel effectively captures the flavor and spirit of 17th-century Europe. (Nov.) Forecast: A striking period jacket will entice browsers, but the 20,000-copy first printing of this sluggishly paced novel may take some time to sell through. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Lebanese author Maalouf, winner of France's Prix Goncourt in 1993, sets this historical novel mostly in the Mediterranean of the mid-1600s. Balthasar Embriaco, an exiled Italian merchant, becomes fixated on retrieving a mysterious religious text called The Hundredth Name that he mistakenly sold to a traveler who stopped in his shop in the Levant. He thus sets out on a long journey, accompanied by his two nearly grown nephews, his manservant, and a woman seeking her estranged husband. The likable Balthasar prides himself on his Genovese heritage and his fairness and generosity as a merchant. He also considers himself a man of reason and respects this quality in others. His adventures, his love for a woman he yearns to marry, the men and women he befriends in his travels, and the internal push-and-pull he experiences between emotion and reason make this an entertaining read. Master storyteller Maalouf takes this part of the world at a time when doomsday is believed to be imminent and invests it with both humanity and intrigue. Highly recommended for most fiction collections.-Maureen Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A clever picaresque from Maalouf (In the Name of Identity, 2001, etc.) takes us from the Middle East across all of Europe in search of an enchanted book. In 1665, much of the Christian world became obsessed with the notion that the three last digits of the upcoming year corresponded exactly to the Sign of the Beast (666) as recorded in the Book of the Apocalypse. In the Middle East, then as always a crossroads of diverse cultures and religions, this fear became intertwined with a widespread belief that an erudite Muslim had discovered the 100th name of God (the Koran gives 99) and that whoever learned it would become immortal and invincible. The problem was that no one could find the book that the man had written. Balthasar Embriaco, a bookseller in the Levantine town of Gibelet, had heard all these rumors for years, but he put little store in tales of the end of the world and frankly doubted that the book ever existed--until a local beggar gives him a copy of it. Before he can make up his mind about its authenticity, however, an envoy of the French king buys it from him for an astounding sum and disappears. Balthasar’s scholarly nephew Jaber is horrified that his uncle has let this treasure escape and convinces him to pursue the envoy and retrieve the book. Reluctantly, Balthasar agrees to journey to Constantinople in the search, but he discovers after an arduous journey that the envoy died en route, and that the book has gone missing. Clearly, something is afoot, and so Balthasar and his entourage continue their search, compared to which the search for the Maltese Falcon was a scavenger hunt. Does he find it? Of course. Are the prophecies true? Well, let’s just say that the world didn’tend in 1666. Splendid, sophisticated fun: Maalouf has a fine grasp of history and a natural’s gift for narrative and adventure.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611451184
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 11/1/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,265,708
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 6.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Amin Maalouf has written seven novels, including The Gardens of Light, Leo Africanus, and The Rock of Tanios, which won the Goncourt Prize in 1993. He is the former director of the leading Beirut newspaper an-Nahar. He lives in Paris.
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