The Ruby in Her Navel
A Novel of Love and Intrigue in the 12th Century
By Barry Unsworth
(Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385509633, 416pp.)
Publication Date: October 17, 2006
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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.
BARRY UNSWORTH won the Booker Prize for his novel Sacred Hunger. He is also the author of The Songs of the Kings, Losing Nelson, After Hannibal, and the international bestseller Morality Play. He lives in Italy.
"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."
"Barry Unsworth brilliantly peoples one of the most dazzling and least known chapters of European history; I loved this book."
--John Julius Norwich
"Unsworth's subtle prose conjures up an authentically realized medieval world in which one's nationality and religion overshadow everything, and peace is only an illusion. The twisting plotline, heavy with foreshadowing, 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."
"The Ruby in Her Navel is a richly imagined novel of the Middle Ages, filled with questions of race, God, and fidelity, from the Booker Prize-winning Unsworth...Unsworth's luscious history is ripe territory for a dialogue on the ever-present struggle against intolerance, a seemingly inevitable human frailty."
"Barry Unsworth is one of the three most important British novelists at work today."
--Richard Eder, The New York Times
"Unsworth's writing is unrivaled...His novels are close to perfect in an imperfect literary world."
"As with the novels of Brian Moore or the poetry of Larkin, there's very little the reviewer needs to say about Unsworth's fiction, except: read it."
--David Sexton, The Spectator