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Balthasar's Odyssey
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
For those that have read his previous books, like Leo the African and Samarkand, it will be no surprise that the Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf again delivers a splendid book. You can read it as a historical novel, as a metaphysical one or just as an adventure novel; it is all three.
The main protagonist, Balthasare, gets involved with a book, the Hundreth Name, which apparently gives the magic hundreth's name for Allah, a certain cure to avoid the end of the world. Set in 1966, the year that many believed to be the year that the world would come to an end, this is certainly a book to be treasured. Alas, he loses it and he sets out on a journey to retrieve it. a journey which will take him from his home in Lebanon to Constantinople, Genoa, Amsterdam, London and many other places. During his trips he encounters many people and thinkers from all main religions, Catholics, Muslims, Jews etc, as well as a whole range of scoundrels after his money or other possessions. The many meetings contain gems of debates about the meaning of life and religion. The debate is wonderful and insightful and poses very interesting questions; one non-catholic questions whether the phrase "Love thy neighbour as one self" is that important as self love is always flawed and suggest that "He who is without sin casts the first stone" really should be thr prime guideline for our life.
All this is set against a painstaikingly well researched historical background ranging from the upsurges against Constantinople to the Great Fire of London.
A magic adventure indeed!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2007
This is not my usual read at all, being fantasy and historical, but I did absolutely love it. It is a rich and colourful book. The style is fabulous and so easy to read, the plot flows effortlessly. The portrayal of the Mediterranean is excellent and the characters are delightful, even if a few are quite unsavoury. Within a very clever and slightly comical plot many modern day issues are touch upon, but in the same breath the historical accounts are well researched and accurate.

I just can't praise this read enough and look forward to reading more of this author's books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 21 April 2010
This is an excellent novel, it's a travelogue, a philosophical work, a tale of relationships and religion - and that's a lot to ask of any book. The hero is a somewhat bumbling antique dealer who becomes obsessed with a book which is alleged to contain a secret magical word, the 100th name for Allah/God. The book of our hero's imagination literally falls into his lap but then he looses it before reading a word and in his growing obsession he sets out on a journey to search for it across the near east and Europe of the 17th century. Along the way, he falls in love, meets lots of interesting people, visits well known spots, gets caught up in the Great Fire of London, has strange encounters and muses a lot. The novel takes the form of a journal of his search, and, the fact that he is somewhat foolish and somewhat old and somewhat ugly means that he is all the more believable as a character. The tale is told in simple language and his observations on the encounters along the way are those of an innocent, often only later seeing meaning or logic in events. The book of the 100th word is elusive, as is the real reason for his search.

It's an engaging tale, full of ideas but also a story which holds the attention for the fascinating view of 17th century travel and all the action along the way - I couldn't put it down. It's full of imagination and observation and the good and bad choices he makes are thoughtful and resonate, as we are all trying to bumble along the best way we can through life. A highly recommended read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 December 2010
When i started to read this book, i had to force myself to put it down sometimes,as it was so captivating!All characters in the book are so well created, and i like that all story was written in diary form, which made all this storry telling so simple,but at the same time so warm and real. In some places i felt like i'm in the middle of all these events,it seemed like i can feel all the smells,and can hear sounds around me..:)Picture of every country was so real, that i felt like i was travelling myself.
Another thing i liked about this book,that all the sides of this book-religious, philosophical, educational, psyhological was well-balanced and the stranded together in such a beautiful way, that even if i was doing something else that reading, i was still thinking about this story...
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in travels, a little bit of mysticism, history of religion...A lot of things:)
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on 25 October 2014
The story is set in 17th Century Europe and is the fictional journal of a Lebanese antique merchant of Italian origin, Balthasar Embriaco. He is a sympathetic, thoughtful and likeable man, disturbed at all the claims that the world will end during the forthcoming year of 1666. After having in his grasp, and then being obliged to sell, a copy of a rare legendary volume called “The Hundredth Name”, Balthasar embarks on a long journey to reclaim the book. It is purported to reveal the final and hundredth name of God following the 99 names listed in the Koran, and thus this will give the possessor of the volume unique powers. Throughout his travels, Balthasar reflects on the nature of life, falls in love, is betrayed and experiences a number of thrilling adventures. Eventually the book is traced in London, on the eve of the Great Fire, which seems to suggest that the end of the world is indeed nigh. Although Maalouf writes in a chatty colloquial style, it is an intelligent and subtle book. Balthasar is immersed in the religious beliefs and imperatives of the times and the reader shares his perspective on life. It is an enjoyable book, with only one complaint: the part of the volume that is set in London demonstrates an occasional lack of understanding of English 17th Century history.
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on 1 January 2010
Balthasar's Odyssey portrays events in the life of a Lebanese bookseller of Genoese extraction whose hunt for a book that may provide a solution to the possible end of the world in (1)666 takes him to Constantinople, Smyrna, Chios, Genoa and then the London of the Great Fire. This is a lighter and more humorous work than others by Maalouf, focussing on the indecisiveness and gullibility of the main protagonist. But there's still the mix of cultures that you find in all his writing and some good storytelling.
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on 3 June 2014
This is an ok read but to be honest I expected more from such a prolific writer. Story line began well but became less credible as I read on. The end a bit disappointing and left too many loose ends for me.
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on 16 July 2014
Full of attractive characters, travels, and languages, that show that men were used to speak several languages, and move from one place to another. Beautifully written as all Maalouf's books.
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on 20 October 2014
This is the 4th novel that I read by Maalouf. He definitely knows how to emphasize the magic of the middle east country. Reading one of his books it is like being there.
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on 11 August 2013
Great premise, but never really went anywhere. Could have been so much better. Wouldn't really recommend. It was a shame.
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