From The Guardian:
Kamila Shamsie is enchanted by Tariq Ali’s A Sultan in Palermo, a vivid, relevant and necessary tale of Islamic history. In A Sultan in Palermo, the fourth novel in Tariq Ali’s Islam quintet, the 12th-century geographer al-Idrisi thinks back on his first encounter with the works of the Greek al-Homa (Homer). Al-Idrisi had been told by his father of the 12 calligraphers who transcribed Arabic translations of al-Homa’s poetry, working under conditions of such secrecy that if they were even to reveal the nature of their work, “the executioner’s scimitar, in a lightning flash, would detach head from body”. But one of the calligraphers, undaunted, copied out parts of both al-Homa’s poems and sent them to his family in Damascus, along with the information that the complete manuscripts were in secret compartments in the library of Palermo. Generations later, al-Idrisi finds himself in the library at Palermo and, of course, discovers the secret compartment.