An unnamed British musician is the protagonist in Galland’s new book, in which the disastrous Fourth Crusade forms the backdrop.
After the Musician tries to kill Marquis Boniface of Montferrat, the marquis’ son-in-law, Gregor of Mainz, takes the Musician under his wing to prevent him from committing suicide. Gregor, an honest pilgrim and true believer in the Crusaders’ cause, tries to do what is right and just, with the goal of keeping the army together. Ultimately, the Musician joins Gregor, his brother and their coterie in their holy war, and they set off from Venice for Jerusalem. They never arrive there, because as history tells us, the crusaders get sidetracked at Zara and then Constantinople, where countless numbers of Christian citizens (as well as Jews) are murdered and their homelands despoiled.
The politics of the times – the unremitting control of the Venetians over the purse strings of the Crusade, papal bulls that are ignored and manipulated, the splintering of the army into factions, the wickedness of Marquis Boniface in redefining the goal of the Crusaders, the utter destruction of Constantinople’s Jewish population at Petra – become Galland’s gateway into character development. Using the mechanism of the one unnamed Musician as a mirror from which all around him is reflected is, from my point of view, an act of considerable creative genius. Jamila, the faux Arab princess, is our mirror into the lives of 13th century Jewry. These two characters alone make the book a recommended read. When you add Gregor’s intensity, his ability to learn and change, and his deep commitment to his faith no matter the consequences, the book becomes a must read.
This is a long, sometimes light and humorous, and often profoundly disturbing book which has its forgivable faults. I loved it.