Samarkand : A Novel
by Amin Maalouf
The story of Samarkand is woven around the history of the manuscript of the Rubaiyaat of Omar Khayyam, from its creation by the poet and sage in eleventh-century Persia to its loss when the Titanic sank in 1912. Unwittingly involved in a brawl on the streets of Samarkand, Omar Khayyam is brought before a local judge who recognizes his genius as a poet and gives him a blank book in which to inscribe his verses. Thus the head of a great poet is saved and the Rubaiyaat of Omar Khayyam is born. The threads of his life become interwoven with the designs of the vizier, Nizam al Mulk, and of Hassan Sabbah, the founder of the Order of the Assassins who later hides the precious manuscript in his famous mountain fortress. At the end of the nineteenth century the poems fire the imagination of the West in Edward Fitzgerald's evocative translation. An American scholar learns of the manuscript's survival and recovers it with the help of a Persian princess. Together they take it on the fateful voyage of the Titanic.