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Tunisian art historian al Khemir's U.S. debut is a gorgeously written exploration of what it means to collect ancient relics and reinterpret them through a lens clouded by culture, religion, and time. Set in Wadi Hassoun, a small village outside of Cairo, the novel tracks the work of an international team of archaeologists who've been commissioned by wealthy London financiers to unearth a holy Islamic text called the Blue Manuscript. A copy of the book found decades earlier proved so valuable that its pages were separated and sold individually for a small fortune. Is this greed or simply good business? Because other artifacts uncovered in the search-like glass shards and pottery-will be disbursed to museums, team members express few qualms about digging up burial grounds and other sacred spaces. The villagers are less sanguine, and al Khemir uses the team's mixed-race, Arabic translator to question how belief systems shape identity and vocational choices. The author's pithy and wise observations are rooted in contemporary sociopolitical realities and make this an exceptionally complex, engrossing, and poignant story. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.
—Eleanor J. Bader