Synopses & Reviews
Set in the Middle Ages during the brief yet glittering rule of the Norman kings, The Ruby in Her Navel
is a tale in which the conflicts of the past portend the present. The novel opens in Palermo, in which Latin and Greek, Arab and Jew live together in precarious harmony. Thurstan Beauchamp, the Christian son of a Norman knight, works for Yusuf, a Muslim Arab, in the palace's central finance office, a job which includes the management of blackmail and bribes, and the gathering of secret information for the king.
But the peace and prosperity of the kingdom is being threatened, internally as well as externally. Known for his loyalty but divided between the ideals of chivalry and the harsh political realities of his tumultuous times, Thurstan is dispatched to uncover the conspiracies brewing against his king. During his journeys, he encounters the woman he loved as a youth; and the renewed promise of her love, as well as the mysterious presence of an itinerant dancing girl, sends him on a spiritual odyssey that forces him to question the nature of his ambition and the folly of uncritical reverence for authority.
With the exquisite prose and masterful narrative drive that have earned him widespread acclaim, Barry Unsworth transports the reader to a distant past filled with deception and mystery, and whose racial, tribal, and religious tensions are still with us today.
"Enticing titles are typical of Unsworth (Sacred Hunger); his gleam, this time out, is dimmed by the setting. Thurstan Beauchamp, royal purveyor of pleasures and shows in the 12th-century Kingdom of Sicily, laboriously narrates his daily rounds, which involve delicate low-level negotiations and machinations. Four pages are devoted to the sale of three mules, in language as artificially antique and exotic as it is languorous. Relief comes in the sudden appearance of Lady Alicia, who had been Thurstan's love back when he was on a track to knighthood. Bittersweet reflections on his thwarted destiny provide some of the most affecting moments. But the lady is too good to be true, and she proves central to a vile plot in which Thurstan betrays a friend. Perfidy brings epiphany; Thurstan realizes Alicia could not have seduced his soul had he not invested her with the power. And Alicia is not the 'Lady' of the title: that distinction belongs to Nesrin, the smolderingly beautiful belly dancer whose name appears on the first page, but whose story is teasingly withheld until further in. It is she who provides the inspiration for Thurstan's self-exploration, burnishing a mind of which we learn rather too much." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The twisting plotline...conceals as much as it reveals in this heartrending tale, which can be read either as an exceptional historical novel or a modern parable on the dangers of blind patriotism." Booklist
"[R]ichly imagined....Unsworth's luscious history is ripe territory for a dialogue on the ever-present struggle against intolerance, a seemingly inevitable human frailty." Kirkus Reviews
"The Ruby in Her Navel is captivating, sensuous, and immensely moving. It helps us understand our own contemporary world; a rare achievement. This is Barry Unsworth, the master of resonant historical fiction, on top form." Jim Crace
"An exotic tale of love, intrigue, betrayal and revenge....Unsworth writes beautifully. Too many historical details, however, bog down the book and divert from the main storyline." Seattle Times
"Booker Prize winner Unsworth creates a complex narrative in a historical era of uncertainty....However, the dialog fails to give the supporting characters distinctive voices that reflect their status and background." Library Journal
Sent to uncover the conspiracies brewing against his king, Thurstan Beauchamp, a young Norman, finds intrigue, treachery, and love at the Sicilian court of King Roger in Palermo, and is torn between two different women--the widowed Lady Alicia, the woman he had loved as a youth, and Nesrin, a sensuous court dancer. 20,000 first printing.
About the Author
Barry Unsworth won the Booker Prize in 1992 for Sacred Hunger; his next novel, Morality Play, was a Booker nominee and a bestseller in both the United States and Great Britain. His other novels include After Hannibal, The Hide, and Pascali's Island, which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize and was made into a feature film. He lives in Umbria with his wife and recently held the position of Visiting Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.