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Paradise of the Assassins (Classics from South Asia and the Near East) (1899)

by Abdul Haleem Sharar

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Paradise of the Assassins (a translation of Firdaus-e-Bareen, 1899) is the best know work of Abdul Halim Shaere (1860-1927), who was a father of modern Urdu Literature, from northern India and present-day Pakistan. It was immensely and deservedly popular with Urdo readers in its day, and was one of the first stories written in the Urdu language that is also in the style of a Western novel - it owes much to the style of Sir Walter Scott. For modern readers it's still surprisingly entertaining and accessible, and relevant to current events in that part of the world. The story is set in the Medieval period and concerns the Hashshashin - the Islamic cult from which the word "assassin" originates - who murder enemies based on the promise of rewards in heaven (nubile virgins). Ultimately it is critical of how religious devotion can be manipulated by more earthly concerns to get young men to commit evil deeds. The novel was prophetic by showing how religious fanatics can become disillusioned with life and enraptured by the promise (illusion) of paradise to the point of committing suicide-murder. This English translation was printed in 2005 in Pakistan.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2010 cc-by-nd ( )
  Stbalbach | May 21, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195977319, Paperback)

The book was first published in 1899. The story of Husain and Zammarrud fallen in the grip of the Assassins take us back to the last days of Hasan Bin Sabah's merciless followers, at the end of which the sect's stronghold, the famous fort of Alamoot, was destroyed by the even more merciless Mongol hordes. Sharar writes famously in the style of a Walter Scott novel, the novel itself being a new literary form in his day. But there are shades of an earlier indigenous genre - the Dastaan - in his work. Yet although he tells a gripping tale, part Scott and part Dastaan, he is not unaware of character. Husain may be credulous, and smitten silly by his love for Zammarrud, but he can still ask Shaikh Vujoodi intelligent questions which the Shaikh can only parry by the display of great wrath and superhuman knowledge. Husain's credulity in accepting his answers immediately has a lot to do with his fear that he would not be allowed to visit his beloved in 'Paradise.' There is a definite modern streak in Sharar's work. His treatment of Zamarrud is different from the usual portrayal of female characters in his day. Zamarrud has a mind of her own. She is observant and intelligent and capable of rebuffing her lover when he sounds credulous and foolish. No old fashioned perceptions of female 'duty' or the superior status of men holds her back from realizing that she is more clear-headed than Husain. She is moreover not mild of manner or adulatory of her man, as the prototypes of female perfection tend to be in Urdu literature of the day. Yet non of this detracts from her femininity, as she runs around 'like a delicate, fleet-footed doe' but fully determined to have her way. Much has been written about the Assassins in English and other languages. Sharar's novel has its own charm, and given a chance it should become a very popular book. Translated into Tajik, Sharar's works have quite a lot of readers in Tajikistan, where they are also the subject of a Ph.D. dissertation by Vladimir Lanikin.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:34 -0400)

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