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Balthasar’s Odyssey

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Balthasar’s Odyssey by Amin Maalouf

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ISBN 9780099452089

391 Pages

Jul 25, 2015 – Aug 15, 2015

Synopsis

Balthasar sets out on a long journey to find a very rare book: The Unveiling of the Hidden Name by Abu Maher Al Mazandarani, commonly known as “The Hundredth Name”. In Islam there are 99 names for God, this book is said to reveal a secret and sacred one hundredth name that offers salvation from the apocalyptic year 1666, also known as the year of the beast.


Balthasar’s Odyssey Book Review

Background and Setting

Balthasar’s Odyssey by Amin Maalouf is a fiction novel originally published in French in 2000 and translated to English in 2002. Set in the 17th century in Europe and the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan) during the Ottoman Empire, the novel follows Balthasar Embriaco, a Genoese book and antiques dealer living in the town of Gibelet (Jbeil in Lebanon), along with his two nephews Jaber and Habib and his newfound love Marta.

Plot and Story

Balthasar sets out on a long journey to find a very rare book: The Unveiling of the Hidden Name by Abu Maher Al Mazandarani, commonly known as “The Hundredth Name”. In Islam there are 99 names for God, this book is said to reveal a secret and sacred one hundredth name that offers salvation from the apocalyptic year 1666, also known as the year of the beast.

Balthasar travels with his two nephews to Constantinople where he reunites with a woman he once knew, Marta, who later becomes his love interest. Then they all travel to Smyrna, where they are caught up in the rise of Sabbati, a Jewish messiah. Balthasar then journeys across the Mediterranean to Genoa and then to London – where he witnesses and survives the Great Fire.

Writing Style

The book is written in the form of a diary style which helps the reader feel the experiences and events from Balthasar’s point–of–view. Balthasar wrote four volumes of notebooks or journals because he keeps having to leave in a hurry on to the next destination in his long journey.

Thoughts and Comments

The novel was quite catchy in the beginning, but gets a little too elaborate through the middle.

The author focuses solely on the main character, his point–of–view, his feelings, his thoughts, his ambitions… etc. Most of the supporting characters were only introduced and were not given as much attention as the main character.

Balthasar’s character leaves the reader contemplating quite a bit about religion and reason, and how sometimes we sacrifice one for the other. In the end, I believe it’s about finding the right balance between the two.

Overall, a great read that combines history, adventure and romance in an immersive reading experience. I believe the phrase “It’s about the journey not the destination” sums up the essence of the novel.

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