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Omnilogikos: literati

I'll post here all the book related content that I usually share on my blog, be it comments, reviews, quotes or whatever else.

Currently reading

L'Assommoir (The Dram Shop)
Robin Buss, Émile Zola
Dicionário de Lugares Imaginários
Carlos Vaz Marques, Ana Falcão Bastos, Alberto Manguel, Gianni Guadalupi
Progress: 60/1040 pages

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

Os Leões de Al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay, João Henrique Pinto

After being widely recommended, finally a friend lent me her copy of The Lions of Al-Rassan translated to Portuguese. I am quite thankful. Though it didn't become an instant favourite, as was the case with some of my friends, it still was a very interesting and rewarding book to read. This is often considered a historical fantasy work, for its indirect depiction of the wars of reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moor occupiers by the Christians of the north. Al-Rassan represents the Moorish Iberian territory, Asharites are Muslims, Jaddites are Christians, Kindath are Jews and there is even a character based on El Cid.
Because I don't have enough time to write a very detailed and thoughtful review, I'll try to talk about some moments and themes that not only make reading it mindfully worthwhile, but also convinced me to try another of Guy Gavriel Kay's works.

I must start with the first event that showed how rewarding reading this book would be, a conversation between Jehane and Velaz where one easily understands that the author won't just fantasize an alternative history, but will mostly use it to make the reader think. Jehane is in a situation in which she feels the opposing forces of loyalty to her people, her professional obligations and her individual moral and ethics. As Velaz tries to convince her not to risk herself, their conversation brings forward the consequences of being neutral or passive before injustice.
In order to share them with those who read the book, but avoiding spoilers, I'll just enumerate the other key moments where Guy Gavriel Kay's prose is specially well accomplished: the massacre in Orvilla - where the author explores the contrast between the glory and the tragedy inherent to war; the Carnival in Ragosa - probably the epitome of the book's prose; and the fire in Fezana - because of each characters decision, of the transformations forced upon them by the event and the use of the fire as a weapon both of purification and terror.
Last, I must highlight the epilogue, not only because it closes the plot beautifully, but specially for the way the author made the storytelling accelerate with the approximation of the climax and then, as if experiencing an anxiety crisis, makes the author loose some of the crucial moments, being only able to look at and analyse them in retrospective. A mark of a great writer.

As for the themes explored in The Lions of Al-Rassan, they include as expected, religion and the consequences of war, but there is also a well accomplished analysis of a person's story taking into account and confronting her cultural background, her mutating context, her self-image and her idea of valour and personal fulfilment.
On religion, the story of Al-Rassan illustrates quite well how it can unite groups and communities but on the other hand do it while isolating or hurting others. Its use as an excuse for war, as a motivation to get people to follow their leaders' greed and lust for glory. There is still time for the characters to be forced to question their beliefs and morality by all the events happening around them.
On war, its obviously all over the place, as expected of an interpretation of the reconquest, superficially as a motor for geopolitical changes, but more deeply explored from the point of view of its impact on people, not as a group but as individuals, as lives, as stories, plans, dreams, feelings.

There is still more to highlight in Guy Gavriel Kay's work, as for example the perspective of the doctor as a person who helps a patient in need with no regard for his country or religion; the person who dreams of becoming a soldier in search of glory but looses heart before the carnage inherent to real war; the manipulation typical of war, be it when the characters are the manipulators be it when they are the ones manipulated by events around them; the choice characters are put upon, between friendship and honour, oath, loyalty or belief; and people who are forced to submit to their enemies, current or past, in order to live, to save someone they care for, to be with those they love.
A final note for the translation (by João Henrique Pinto, published by Saída de Emergência) that is generally quite well done but with some mistakes mostly focused on few chapters which were slightly spoiled. As I said above, reading The Lions of Al-Rassan convinced me to read more of Guy Gavriel Kay's books, probably Tigana or Under Heaven, but, as is usual with English speaking authors, I'll try getting the original versions.
Originally published in Portuguese and English on my blog.
Source: http://omnilogikos.blogspot.pt/2013/10/os-leoes-de-al-rassan-de-guy-gavriel-kay.html