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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Tree of Pearls,
Queen of Egypt

Jurji Zaydan

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To purchase Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt

Title: Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt
Author: Jurji Zaydan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1914 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 227 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt - US
Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt - UK
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Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt - India
  • Arabic title: شجرة الدر
  • Translated and with a Translatro's Note by Samah Selim
  • With an Afterword by Roger Allen

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Our Assessment:

B : more a historical curiosity -- both the story and the novel -- than anything else

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Jurji Zaydan wote almost two dozen popular historical novels in Arabic, of which Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt, is the last one; until recently, none were available in English, but some have now finally appeared in translation.
       Set in the late thirteenth century, it tells, in part, the story of the historical 'Tree of Pearls' (as Shajar al-Durr's name is translated as) and how, indeed, she came to be Queen of Egypt -- "the first Queen in the history of Islam", as Zaydan has it. Unfortunately, she did not last long on the throne and the title is a bit misleading -- she doesn't even figure in much of the novel.
       A variety of local and international conflicts come to play in the novel: the Seventh Crusade, in which Louis IX invaded Egypt, has been beaten back, but there are a variety of conflicts facing and between local, Egyptian powers -- who also look to reassert a more dominant role and place for Egypt -- and those in Baghdad, still the seat of the ruling Caliphate but under threat from the Tatars.
       Zaydan offers lots of behind-the-scenes gamesmanship (and a bit of statesmanship) in how things play out in the various courts as he moves the story from Egypt to Baghdad. Various characters maneuver to get themselves or those close to them into power. And, naturally, good old fashioned jealousy plays a prominent role -- so in the case of one particularly meddlesome Sallafa:

Her rancor was blind, and her only desire was to see the woman brutally stripped of the great prize she had won. Such is the sole cure for chronic envy, those who suffer from it preferring self-destruction to the sight of another's happiness.
       Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt was first published in serialized form, and so it consists of short, fairly self-contained chapters. It is, nevertheless, a story that gets rather complicated -- presumably all the more so for readers not familiar with these historical events. Dominated by intrigue, it moves rather far afield, with behind-the-scenes maneuvers and strategic chess-moves galore -- making for rather packed and varied action. There's some decent adventure here (and some decent melodrama, too), but it is all rather dense and much: a lot of history heaped into a too fast-paced story, with Zaydan focused on the dramatic highpoints, one after another, after another.
       All in all, Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt is more a historical curiosity than anything else, both as story and as novel. There is entertainment value here, with quite a few good scenes of confrontation and betrayal, as well as a variety of intriguing characters (though too few of them are adequately fleshed-out). It's not really the story of the 'first Queen in the history of Islam', but it does offer instead a considerable tangle of history from that time.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 November 2012

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Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt: Jurji Zaydan: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Lebanese-born Jurji Zaydan (جورجي زيدان) was a leading popular Arab author. He lived 1861 to 1914.

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