The Emir’s Trace: An Apulian Novel

Written by Ursula Janssen
Review by Helen Piper

After her uncle’s death, German historian Lia Winter decides to travel to Italy to spend some time with relatives there. Lia stays with her aunt, a traditional herbalist, and finds herself fascinated with her aunt’s way of life. She also makes friends with a local bookseller, and together they start investigating the possible existence of an ancient Arabic manuscript depicting the times when the Apulian region had an Emir.

Janssen has created a moving story about life in southern Italy today but also in the late 800s. The dual timeline works surprisingly well, and the contrast between the time periods also illustrates some of the eternal questions every human grapples with, regardless of the era. Janssen’s language is vivid and evocative, although there are some Germanic expressions remaining in the English translation. The plot moves swiftly along and the parts with the Emir are particularly riveting, shedding light on the Bari region as an emirate. It also provides an insight into how the trade and knowledge from the Arab world improved life in southern Italy. It is clear that Janssen has spent a fair amount of time researching the topic, and the result is an inspiring tale about friendship, life, and cultural differences. I highly recommend this book.