peteg's blog - noise - books - 2017 11 12 CharifMajdalani MovingThePalace

Charif Majdalani: Moving the Palace (originally Caravansérail; translated by Edward Gauvin).

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Kindle. Brief, well written. Something of Conrad's Heart of Darkness transplated a bit further north (to the Sudan), and sure enough, an encounter with T.E. Lawrence and Prince Faisal during the First World War. (Majdalani gives a nod to Lawrence for the raw material on which he leans for a description of their meeting.) Instead of finding all our colonial maniacs at the end of a river, Samuel Ayyad has to continue up the Nile past Cairo, through the Suez and up the Hijaz, lugging his slightly-used ex-Tripoli palace all the way. The British are presented as dotty, as likely to indulge an Oriental fantasy as do some hard-edged soldiering. Early on it seems we're going to be told of how Samuel cuts his deals in the Sudan (beyond distributing a vast stash of British gold), but we never are. The romantic outro seemed undercooked; I really wanted to hear about the reassembly of those thousands of pieces. I wonder if this isn't somewhere in the thousand-and-one nights. The references do pile up, and I lost track of which tribes remained in the caravan and which had gone home.

Suzanna Joinson pointed out the obvious source materials and found more humour in it than I did; to me it was elegant and melancholic. Joe Geha observes an echo of Odysseus's voyage (albeit with a flawless hero).