A String of Silver Beads (The Moorish Empire)

Written by Melissa Addey
Review by Waheed Rabbani

Northwest Africa, 1067. Seventeen-year-old Kella, a Tuareg girl, is entering camel races—forbidden to women—and winning! Dressed in traditional blue robes, she masquerades as a male. Tuareg men wear a turban and veil, and women do not. When her disguise is exposed, she is relegated to a confined life with an aunt. Kella longs to travel with her father’s caravan. She even spurns the advances of an admirer and, posing as a man, steals away to enlist in the force Abu Bakr is amassing for a holy war to unite the various Berber tribal states under one rule. Desirous of an adventurous life, Kella agrees to marry the elderly general Yusuf, but is left behind in camp while Yusuf advances in his campaigns. Kella’s joy on learning of Yusuf’s successes turns to sorrow upon hearing of his plans to marry Zaynab, a wealthy woman. Kella races towards Murakush (modern Marrakesh), attempting to impede the wedding.

Melissa Addey, although brought up in Italy and Britain, has penned this novel, second in a series set in 11th-century Morocco, authentically. It’s not only the historical details, but also the descriptions of cuisine and life in the desert, that present evocative images in our minds. Addey has succeeded in staging an intriguing fictional account of the rise of the Almoravids (Moors), who went on to conquer the whole of Morocco and parts of Tunisia, Algeria, and a major portion of Spain. Addey has seamlessly filled in the large gaps in historical information. The skillful use of a young female protagonist and her first-person narrative, unfolding her struggles and conflicts and introducing non-Muslim characters, add much to the appeal of the story. Furthermore, the adroit introduction of traditional Tuareg jewelry pieces, such as silver beads, strings the storyline together. Highly recommended.