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July 26, 2002 - Image 69

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-07-26

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Artists .. ... • . • .... a . 74

On The Bookshelf:
'Russian Debutante . a



of the World" portrays
an island of tolerance
the violent history of the Jews

Special to the jezvish News

oday, the word "medieval" calls to mind
all things backwards and brutish.
But, as Maria >Rosa Menocal demon-
strates in a fascinating new
. book, life in
inedie\ral Spain was none of' these things.

The Ornament oftheiVorld: How: Illzalims, Jeu ,s and
Christia77s Created a Culture of Thlerance in Medieval
Spain (Little, Brown; $26.95) recreates a time and
place that has passed . down glorious bequests in
mathematics, letters, art, architecture and technology.
And these all were accomplished in an Islamic civi-
lization char not only accepted but celebrated the
Jewish and Christian communities in their midst.
Menocal, who is R. Selden Rose Professor of Spanish
and Portuguese and director of the Whitney
Humanities Center at Yale tiniversity, begins ;her liar-
rative with the evocative words, "Once upon a time.,.


She then takes readers back to the mid-eighth
tury, when an intrepid young man named Abd al-
Rahman abandoned his home in Damascus, the Near
Eastern heartland of Islam, and set out across the
North African desert in search of a place of refuge."
Abel. al-Rahman Was an Umayyad, a member of the
Islamic -dynasty that had been overthrown by the
114uslim Abbasids. His entire family had been massa-
cred in the Abbasid revolution.
The young man's final place of refuge was Iberia —
al-AndaI:ir: rabic Se,farack,,in Hebrew. It 1.;14s here,
within tilt- rough ixaratneterS modern-day
that al-it-kkpk‘: \-#41cied, an Islimic kingdom
:faith would hold sway
nearly 800 years.
Menocal calls al-Andalus a "first rate" kingdo
using the definition of American writer F. Scott
Fitzgerald, who said: "the test of a first-rate intelli-
gence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the

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