The Ruby in Her Navel
Barry Unsworth

Oh I love this book so much! I was so thirsty for one good historical novel and Unsworth never disappointed me so far.

This book is telling story about 12th century Sicily during the rule of Normans. Curiously I watched few days ago on History channel one series about this subject and it helped me to get wider perspective about what Unsworth wrote here.

12th Century Sicily was perfect place of harmony between Muslims (Saracens) and Christians (both Catholic and Byzantine) under the rule of King Roger II of Sicily. Roger drew round him distinguished men of various races, such as the famous Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi. The king welcomed the learned, and he practiced toleration towards the several creeds, races and languages of his realm. He organized a multiracial, multinational kingdom in which Arabic, Byzantine, Lombard, Jewish, and Norman cultures produced a brilliant cosmopolitan state. As such he was probably the most able ruler in 12th-century Europe.
This harmony is lovely metaphor of the present days views of multiculturalism and the reasons for its end 9 centuries ago are sadly the same ones why nowadays multiculturalism can’t find fertile soil.

We can see how some of the magnificent monuments that still exist have been built under the influence of all three religions which is undoubtedly the reason why are so beautiful. Also we can see glimpse of medieval politics: and there Serbs are entering on the stage (I was quite surprised). Indeed Unsworth is great historian, Serbs were preparing rebellion against Byzantines. The story goes that King Roger financially supported that rebellion to distract Manuel I Komnenos, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire to attack Sicily. Indeed Serbs haven’t been presented in such a perfect light but then, who could be completely positive in 12th century, age of bribes, lies, intrigues…?

Unsowrth beautifully paints emotion in Christian hearts after disaster of Second Crusade as well as perfectly clear picture how greedy, bloodthirsty crusaders were and how their reasons and actions were non-Christian. I’m glad they lost it (I know this must sound silly) and I am Christian. On the other hand I always had huge respect toward Arab culture and their contribution to the science. After this novel, even more.
You really have to ask yourself how on earth those men of church thought they are leading Christian life? All what they’ve done was lies, bribes and murders. There is one fantastic scene when man of Church, near Pope is convincing one of the character to do something very non-Christian under the fresco that is showing King Constantine how he kneels before the Pope offering him Eastern Kingdom. What Unsworth didn’t tell (and how could he considering that he would jump out of the entire book) and what I’ve saw at that series on History channel is that the same fresco have been used as a proof that Catholic Christianity and the Pope have legal right to take Eastern Empire and few centuries later it has been proved that the fresco is a fake. Knowing that, the scene of convincing that character to do something (I’m avoiding spoilers) under the same fresco has quite profound and obviously hidden meaning.

And of course there is personal story of love, loyalty, betrayal, dreams, lust … oh you name it! But all this (no matter how previous sentence sounds) couldn’t be more far from cliché.

Beautiful novel! I’m highly recommending it!