Synopses & Reviews
A story virtually unknown in the West, about two of the Middle East’s most remarkable figures—Oman’s Sultan Said and his rebellious daughter Princess Salme—comes to life in this narrative. From their capital on the sultry African island of Zanzibar, Sultan Said and his descendants were shadowed and all but shattered by the rise and fall of the nineteenth-century East African slave trade.
“As shrewd, liberal, and enlightened a prince as Arabia has ever produced.” That’s how explorer Richard Burton described Seyyid Said Al bin Sultan Busaid, who came to power in Oman in 1804 when he was fifteen years old. During his half-century reign, Said ruled with uncanny contradiction: as a believer in a tolerant Islam who gained power through bloodshed and perfidy, and as an open-minded, intellectually curious man who established relations with the West while building a vast commercial empire on the backs of tens of thousands of slaves. His daughter Salme, born to a concubine in a Zanzibar harem, scandalized her family and people by eloping to Europe with a German businessman in 1866, converting to Christianity, and writing the first-known autobiography of an Arab woman.
Christiane Bird paints a stunning portrait of violent family feuds, international intrigues, and charismatic characters—from Sultan Said and Princess Salme to the wildly wealthy slave trader Tippu Tip and the indefatigable British antislavery crusader Dr. David Livingstone. The Sultan’s Shadow is a brilliantly researched and irresistibly readable foray into the stark brutality and decadent beauty of a vanished world.
"Bird brilliantly tells of the 19th-century rise and fall of an Omani ruling family, its role in the enormous Indian Ocean slave trade and, unwittingly, through the Princess Salme, the Christianization and colonization of east Africa by Germany. Oman's Sultan Seyyid Said Al Busaidi was generous with his own people but cruel and ruthless with his enemies, He built alliances with the British as he built a lucrative slave trade in his capital of Zanzibar. After Said's death, his favorite daughter, Salme, 'an independent woman who flatly refused to obey the mores of her day,' eloped with a German businessman who soon died in a fluke accident. Bismarck used Salme and her family to gain a foothold in the slave trade; by the time of Salme's death in 1924, her Omani ruling family's fortunes had declined, German power had risen, and the slave trade in Zanzibar had been abolished. Drawing on Salme's autobiography and letters, journalist Bird (Neither East nor West: One Woman's Journey Through the Islamic Republic of Iran) presents a first-rate cultural and political history that opens a window onto this little-known corner of modern history. Maps. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Christiane Bird is the author of A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan; Neither East Nor West: One Woman’s Journey Through the Islamic Republic of Iran; and The Jazz and Blues Lover’s Guide to the U.S. A graduate of Yale University and former travel writer for the New York Daily News, she lives in New York City with her family.