Léon l'Africain

by Amin Maalouf

Paperback, 1987



Call number




Le Livre de Poche (1987), 346 pages


Based on the life of Hasan al-Wazzan.

User reviews

LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
Leo Africanus, as he was referred to by the Romans, is a true historical figure, author of "Description of Africa" published in 1550, as well as an Arabic/Hebrew/Latin grammar/dictionary, only a small portion of which survives. He was born in Granada c. 1494. As a young boy his family was expelled from Spain, along with other Muslims. They settled in Fez in Morroco, where Leo (originally Hasan) grew up. As a youth, he began making diplomatic journeys, the first being with his uncle to Timbuktu. He later spent time in Egypt (where he was when the Ottomans conquered the Egyptians), and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was captured by pirates in the Mediterranean, and brought to Rome, where he was baptised a Christian. He thereafter acted as a diplomat on behalf of the Pope.

This novel follows what is known of his life, but is clearly a novel rather than a history. Leo's character is thoughtfully imagined, and he is surrounded by friends and family who are living, breathing people. The novel is narrated chronologically by Leo in the form of a letter to his son, with each chapter covering the events of one year. The chapters are included in larger books, i.e. The Book of Granada, The Book of Fez, etc, each including the chapters of his life in the context of the major events of his life. The prose is straight-forward, as Leo interacts with other historical figures, and with his family members and friends. There are a few described incidents that seemed a little far-fetched, but the world was smaller then, so perhaps it was easier to meet people from your past by chance many years after you last saw them.

The descriptions of his caravan journeys across North Africa, the Sahara, the Atlas Mountains, and of Timbuktu were riveting. I'm not sure how much of the events and places described were taken from his "Description of North Africa." It is a fact, however, that Leo's book, "Description of North Africa," became a best-seller of sorts in its own time, as Europeans knew very little and were starved for information about this part of the world. Leo's other adventures--his time in Egypt during the Ottoman onslaught, the journey to Mecca, his involvement in the European religious strife of the early 16th century--make for equally compelling reading.
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LibraryThing member John
First thing I have read by Maalouf, and I quite enjoyed it. The story is based on the true life-story of Hasan as-Wazzan, a 16th century traveller and writer who had a most extraordinary life in his first 40 years: as a child he had to flee Granada with his family after that city fell to the Spanish. They went to live in Fez where Hasan grew up, became a treader and diplomat and had numerous adventures (and 3 different wives) circling around the Ottoman conquest of Egypt, life in Cairo, Renaissance Rome under the Medicis (where Hasan was taken initially as a slave and became a favourite of the Pope), through to the sacking of Rome by Luthern hordes, and Hasam's final return toTunis.

It is a story of the impermanence of kingdoms and dynasties, at the level of states or just familial, owing to the vissistudes of fate and occurance. A story about the corruption of great wealth (whether Muslim or Christian) and the complete debasements of populations treated only as tax revenue sources or fodder for wars justified in the lofty tones of religion, but more often than not serving more venal purposes. With sufficient, isolated examples of different ways of living to provide a contrast. At the same time there are personal stories of great passion, commitment, love, dedication; the strained relationships of fathers and growing sons; the pain of things uttered that cannot be taken back; stories of petty intrigues that stretch across decades and ruin whole families. A tapestry of the uncontrollable and unforeseeable paths of life. It ia also striking how integrated the world was becoming in the 16th century with booming trade between Europe, Asia, North and Central Africa: early globalization.

In Granada, prior to its fall, the author presents the schism that still seems to afflict the modern Muslim world: between those who would seek to adapt to and learn from the modern world while preserving their faith, and those for whom any compromise is blasphemy and the pursuit of belief is the key to life and glorious death. Hasan also argues, "As long as the caliphs were rulers, Islam was radiant with culture. Religion reigned peaceably over the affairs of this world. Since then, it is force which rules, and the faith is often nothing but a sword in the hands of the sultan."
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
This story is a fictionalized biography of a real-life character who was known as Leo Africanus. Born al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi in Granada Spain in 1494, where the first part of the novel takes place, we learn quite a lot about the history of the Muslims who, having conquered that part of the world in the 8th century were then driven out when Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered the land and imposed the Catholic religion by giving the Muslims the choice of converting or leaving, under threat of being taken into slavery. We follow Leo Africanus as he travels to North Africa and then takes on a role as a diplomat and travels extensively, eventually to be captured and enslaved to be given as a 'gift' to Pope Leo X in Rome, where he was baptized and eventually given a very important role. He also became a scholar and published several works which were widely popular, including his autobiography which Maalouf no doubt based himself on. This is a rare case where I wish I had read the book instead of taking in the audio version as the narrator's delivery didn't inspire me and rendered what should have been a fascinating story, quite flat, and my rating reflects that. But the book has great value as a way of learning about the early 16th century up to the sack of Rome in 1527 and is a great saga about a fascinating real-life character.… (more)
LibraryThing member FPdC
This book is the portuguese translation of Leon, L'Africain, the fictional auto-biography of a real 16th century personality, Hassan-al-Wazzan, or Jean-Léon de Médicis, or Leon L'Africain. This fascinating character was born in Granada in 1489, before the fall of the city to the Christians, in 1492. Émigré and refugee in Fez, Cairo, and Rome, his life was testimony to unique and historically determinant events such as the fall of Granada in 1492, the conquest of Cairo by the turks in 1517, the sack of Rome by the troops of emperor Charles V in 1527. The book, crossing elements of the real life of Hassan with fictional details, is a delightful portrait of a remarkable man and his era.… (more)
LibraryThing member xrayedgrl
I have not even finished this book yet and it is one of my all time favorites. I have to thank Dr.Karim of AMC for recommending this book and author to me. Beautifully written with drama, romance as well as great descriptions of a time and people gone by. This story relates to all people and religions reminding us that we are all trying to serve our God, or not as the case may be, but we need to respect one another and try to live in peace or be condemned to make the mistakes of the past, Holy wars and the like, all over again.
Maalouf is a master storyteller, able to paint frescos with his words and create emotion and life in his characters. What a great gift this work is!
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LibraryThing member blackbelt.librarian
A good book, but hard to understand if you don't know the background of the Middle East (I only have a very, very small knowledge of the Middle East). I read it on a friend's recommendation & I'm not sorry. Even though I didn't understand a lot of the history & terms, it piqued my interest & I want to learn more about Middle Eastern history & culture.… (more)
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
Peter Slugett made a pretty good translation of this novel. Leo was a real person, and a considerable geographer, who was a treasure trove of information about Northern Africa to the renaissance. The novel has good empathy with a man out of his original place, coping with a dangerous environment.
LibraryThing member bookwoman247
This is a great, historical novel from a Muslim perspective. With elements of The Travels of Ibn Batuta and a little of The Arabian Nights it was a real pleasure to read. The only drawback was that the translation or the editing made it a little clunky and at the beginning that made it a bit hard to get into, but I highly recommend that you don't let that put you off.… (more)
LibraryThing member snash
Historical fiction full of adventure, giving a vivid picture of the Mediterranean from Granada to Constantinople to Rome from 1488 to 1528. Very engaging and enjoyable.
LibraryThing member Savagemalloy
Interesting insights into every day life in 15th century Spain and North Afica. Emphasis on Islamic religion traditions of the time.


Original publication date


Physical description

346 p.; 4.25 inches


2253041939 / 9782253041931
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