Origins: A Memoir by Amin Maalouf (Translated by Catherine Temerson) - review by Jason Goodwin

Jason Goodwin

Memory Maps

Origins: A Memoir


Picador 416pp £17.99

Having read and much enjoyed some of this Lebanese writer’s historical novels (among them Leo the African and The Rock of Tanios), which meditate subtly and provokingly on, among other things, the fluidity of national identity and the past, I looked forward to reading this memoir. I didn’t mind that it was long. I read it on trains. I read it in gardens. In Origins, Maalouf puts his novelistic themes into practice, tracing incongruence and cultural overlap within the confines of his own family history. Here are a people rooted to the village, who blithely set up shop in Havana; Orthodox priests whose children become Presbyterian schoolmasters; progressives, walking around in the 1900s without a hat, let alone a fez, who hope the French mandate will result in égalité and liberté; Freemasons and Young Ottomans.

I read it indoors, at my desk, and far away, in hotel bedrooms. And I found it very, very long.

‘Those who cannot accept their own diversity may be among the most virulent of those prepared to kill for the sake of identity, attacking those who embody that part of themselves

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