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The last line of Kader Addolah’s novel, “The King”, best summarizes the book.

“The kings’ tales are never really finished, and this is because the storytellers always have to save something for the night that is to come.”

This is a parable unmasked. As simple as a child’s fable it retells a history of the reign of Naser Muhammad Fatali Mozafar, the shah of Persia from 1848-1896. Palace intrigue is inherent in monarchies, particularly when those who assume the throne after an assassination of their father,  are young. Inexperienced and less educated, they often are manipulated. Naser al-Din Shah is directed by his mother Mahdolia and his viziers, some who are allies of his mother and others who are not. The viziers are conscious that Persia is economically and technologically undeveloped relative to Victorian England and Tsarist Russia, each of whom have their own agendas. The Shah is in a century he is first trying to avoid understanding. Steeped in tradition, he is a leader displaced. Persians have a historical love of poetry. This Shah is both a writer of verse and a painter. Vocations of eldest sons are pre-ordained in monarchies and leave emotional scars. Spoiled, this Shah’s passion is mostly ruthless. Empathy is genetically and spatially deprived though controlled isolation. His solace is in his cat, his daughter Taj, his grandson and the Qur’an. The latter is a source of guidance during difficult times. Random surahs are chosen likes lines on a palm.

Divine guidance is unpredictable. In the midst of negotiations with the British the Shah’s first vizier, Mirza Tagi Khan Amir Kabir, sought help from the Qur’an. It read in part Alif lam meem, which is the opening line of many surahs. My understanding is that there is no exact meaning for the language, as Allah did not reveal the meaning to anyone. British arrogance and love of the Middle East is apparent in the negotiations, which are to their continuing advantage.

There are wonderful characters in the book, but it is the tale that sparkles like a gem. The culture of Persia during that period is deftly handled and the reader is educated without distracting from this fast-paced tale. Like any tale, it is all in the telling.

“The King” is translated from Dutch. In English it is published by New Directions Books, a small press. My last book review reviewed one of their publications. Their current and past offerings can be found at http://ndbooks.com/. You will enjoy this book.

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