I am blessed with friends and family who share books, and Pashazade came into my life courtesy of Little Diamond, my globe-trotting glamourous niece. She always leaves a trail of books as she wanders hither and yon. Some of them are just too deep for me, or need too much attention. This series, the Arabesk Trilogy by Jon Courtenay Grimwood almost fell in that category.
I missed a clue. I kept trying to start the first volume, Pashazade, but was having a problem keeping up with the plot and the technology. I would go back and read again, trying to figure out what I was missing. I know I’m living in Kuwait, but I read! I keep up with the news! When did all this new stuff happen?
And then I just happened to look at the cover of the book and it all became clear – it is a parallel world, it is science fiction, and once I started reading and accepting all the strange words and implants as literary license, the book became fun, and intriguing, and very very hard to put down. And then I had to wait while the second and third volumes (Effendi and Felaheen) because the series is that much fun.
The main character, Ashraf al-Mansur has a complicated past. The plot is complex enough, but Ashraf doesn’t know who he is, we don’t know who he is, and we have to take time out from the plot now and then to get another piece of the puzzle. Fortunately, the puzzle pieces are in all kinds of cool places – Alexandria (but a different Alexandria from current day Alexandria) and the Sudan) but a slightly different Sudan, with a prophetic edge to it) and Seattle and a mental institution, and Tunis and the desert oases . . . oh, this is a lot of fun.
So Ashraf starts out in Alexandria, with his Aunt Nafisa who lives in this marvelous old madresa in Al Iskandriya, but then his aunt is killed, Ashraf becomes guardian to an exceedingly bright and introverted young girl, and falls in love with a young woman with whom he refused an arranged marriage.
Ashraf has friends in high places, is believed to have relations in high places, and although he gets into the worst situations, he has WASTA and a lot of problems just disappear. (For my non-Kuwaiti readers, wasta is sort of like the-power-of-connection-and-who-you-know-and-maybe-who-owes-you-a-favor-or-might-be-open-to-a-little-encouragement). These connections get people killed in the Arabesk trilogy, threaten chaos and mutilation and disaster, and take you on a great ride. Oh! Did I mention this is also a mystery, romance and has political intrigue, too?
It’s modern day – or maybe a year or two in the future – and with a huge twist in the universe here and there, so that it seems familiar, but it isn’t. There are dark shadows and differences that can be critical. And it has a whole raft of “who’s your ally?” kind of situations. It is a richly textured romp, and you are along for the ride. Don’t fight it, just lean back and hang on.
It is pure escapism, no great deep thoughts here. When the trilogy ends, however, you remember the characters, you remember the plots, and you still grin about them months later.
Pashazade, the first volume, is available through Amazon in hardcover and paperback. Paperback starts under $5.00, through used vendors.
Effendi is available from $10.20, new paperback edition.
Felaheen is available new and used from $8.99