The Book Smuggler

The Book Smuggler (fiction)

Author: Omaima Al-Khamis
Translator:Sarah Enany
Buy from: Amazon


The Book Smuggler is about Majid al-Hanafi of Al-Yamama of the historical Najd region. While the character is fictitious, there are real book smugglers in the time of the Crusades (around 632 AD). In those days, Islam had been broken into Suuni and Shiite, because of the succession argument.

Our hero is on a journey to keep books safe, not sacred books, but all books are sacred if you are a bookworm. It is in his journey that Majid became a part of Voyage of the Cranes- a group of people who dedicate their lives and selfs to protecting and spreading knowledge.

A Road Map

This is the road map (sorry a little on the blur side) of the Book Smuggler. He started in Al- Yamama, which is in modern Saudi Arabia. The books that he had were not just religious books, he frequently quotes Galen and Aristotle, so that gives you a hint of what contraband he’s carrying.

A chain of events sets him off his journey, carrying books from his home northwards towards Baghdad via boat. The long journey was via camel, Shura. The descriptions of his journey is vivid, and his views on his own religion moderate. He’s definitely someone who believed in the religion’s teachings more than the succession lines.

From Baghdad, he made his way to Jerusalem, before making his way to Cordoba in Spain. This journey took years, because he would spend time in each city. Because he can write, Majid manages to survive on being a copier of books and a bookeeper.

Journey and Growth

The Book Smuggler was more about the journey, but our hero managed to learn a lot from each city. For example, in Jerusalem, he met Christians, and celebrated Rise of Christ with them. I am not sure how accurate the depictions are, but they are quite engaging and immersive, all thanks to the translator’s skill.

I do not doubt that the original would have been better, poems are usually more elegant in its original language, but she had done quite a good job translating. The book does have slow points, but I just you can’t rush through things when you are doing something dangerous.

Verdict on The Book Smuggler

There is a reason why it won the 2018 The Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, it is an epic journey, albeit without dragons. But plenty of danger around, some do not wield swords. This book is a good example of fiction that educates, and you will find yourself sent back in time, breathing red dusty air and reciting poems for no good reason.

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