Monday, March 17, 2008

Remembering the characters

I think our problem with remembering who's who in this book is the extremely extensive number of characters!

I was ready to throw the book across the room earlier today ... out of frustration ... as I tried to keep names straight in the section about the slave from Ifriqiya (is that Africa? ... I need to look it up) on pages 273-316 about "A White Hair" in Seville, 1480.

Not only do the characters have names, but they also have their original names ("the girl he calls Nura" on one page says, "Isabella ... is my Christian name" on another page) and names that keep changing ... because of some whim of their owners or because the "name" is simply a designation, like al-Mora ("the Moorish woman" ... I'll call her the artist for simplicity; and we learn that Kebira's name had once been Muna ... who later calls the artist "Muna al-Emira, the emira's desire"). Got that? No?

It's confusing enough that we have bits of the different languages along with the different religions (Allahu akbar is a Muslim prayer saying ... I think ... "Allah is one" or the one God). Reading this book is a lot of work! It's enough to make me long for a simple book where the protagonist has a single name and the plot moves forward with no flashbacks!

Okay, I looked up IFRIQIYA in Wikipedia: "In medieval history, Ifriqiya or Ifriqiyah (Arabic: إفريقية) was the area comprising the coastal regions of what are today western Libya, Tunisia, and eastern Algeria. This area included what had been the Roman province of Africa."

Because I carefully wrote down the word (I F R I Q I Y A), I then promptly noticed a typo in this section where the word is spelled with an N: Infriqiya. Do I win a prize?

I also looked up the Arabic phrase in Wikipedia and discovered I had it wrong: Allāhu Akbar, الله أكبر, is usually translated "God is great" or "God is [the] greatest." It is a common Arabic expression, used as both an informal expression of faith and as a formal declaration.

I'm taking a break from reading, mid-section. Maybe I'll go out for lunch and a trip to the library. Maybe I'll come back to the book with fresh eyes. Maybe it will be easier then.

Oh, the photo? He's the Emir of Bukhara, who had his picture taken in 1911. Click to enlarge the photo and study the elaborate embroidery on his tunic. Or coat. Or whatever the garment is called. Here's what Wikipedia says about the word EMIR: Emir (Arabic: أمير; amīrah, ãmir, "commander" or "general", later also "prince" ; also transliterated as amir, aamir or ameer) is a high title of nobility or office, used in Arabic nations of the Middle East and North Africa, and historically, in some Turkic states. While emir is the predominant spelling in English and many other languages, amir, closer to the original Arabic, is more common for its numerous compounds (e. g., admiral) and in individual names. Spelling thus differs depending on the sources consulted.

1 comment:

alisonwonderland said...

i stopped reading before the white hair section because i didn't want to get too far ahead of the discussion questions (and further muddle my brain). it'll be good to have this information when i resume. thanks for posting it, Bonnie!