The Shining City is a classic chronicle about exotic romance and familial history.
On coming across excavations of ruins of pristine cities, it might make us ponder- how the life of the bygone era must’ve been. To provide some resonating answers to many of our queries, comes The Shining City by Joan Fallon. Set in 10th century Spain, in the time of the Caliph and Moorish reign, it narrates a tragic tale of unrequited love and honour, with a bustling Madinat al Zahra in context.
A FORBIDDEN LOVE CORRUPTED BY SLAVERY
A doomed romance between an artisan’s son, Omar and northern slave-girl, Isolde takes the center stage. Things take a turn when she is sold to the Khalifa’s harem, becoming Caliph’s concubine. This ill-fated love rummages through the lives of their loved ones as it opens a Pandora box by unravelling his father, Qasim’s tumultuous past.
NOSTALGIC REVERENCE TO THE GLORIOUS PAST
‘It means shining, glistening, brilliant. Possibly his concubine glittered and shone with all the jewels and beautiful silks he showered upon her but then so did the city. It was indeed the Shining City. When visitors entered through the Grand Portico, passing beneath its enormous, red and white arches, when they climbed the ramped streets that were paved with blocks of dark mountain stone, passing the lines of uniformed guards in their scarlet jackets and the richly robed civil servants that flanked their way, when they reached the royal residence and saw the golden inlay on the ceilings, the marble pillars, the richly woven rugs scattered across the floors and the brilliant silk tapestries, when they saw the moving tank of mercury in the great reception pavilion that caught the sunlight and dazzled all who beheld it, then they indeed knew that they were in the Shining City.’
With such vivid descriptive accounts of the Madinat al-Zahra, the characters reminisce about the good ol’days, thus painting imagery for the readers to indulge into 10th Century Spain. This eerie sense of nostalgic recalling is abundant throughout the book as many characters find themselves at a standstill with the status quo. They suffered from a ‘wave of longing’ especially, old Omar who kept going back to the year 974 AD when he had to part from the love of his life.
“The buildings were huge and built of stone but they were not dreary; they glowed a warm amber colour in the evening sun. They towered above her, casting pools of bluish shadows across her path. The slave merchant led them down narrow paved streets lit by oil lamps, under red and white painted arches, through winding passageways, past marble columns and heavy oak doors that were three times as tall as she was. There were fountains of running water, open spaces where people sat talking and drinking something from tiny cups, balconies filled with flowers, entertainers playing musical instruments.”
Such detailed accounts covering the sounds of people to the aroma of the city’s foods bring back the ghosts of a long-gone past. Such narrative animates the exotic history, culture, religion and even, day-to-day drill of the exotic life under Moorish rule, striking a nostalgic nerve with readers. By personifying the ruined paths, broken tiles, archaic pillars and arches, The Shining City resurrects an insentient metropolis right from its graves.