Written by Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud
Translated by Amira Nowaira
Published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
Review by Tracey Skeine
It is the early nineteenth century, and the British government is fighting piracy on the high seas and campaigning against the expansion of Wahhabist forces in the Gulf in Arabia. Alliances and treaties are being sought with the Egyptian forces and with Erhama bin Jaber, a legendary Gulf pirate—or corsair.
Charged with a gruelling journey across seas and deserts to deliver a priceless gift to the Egyptian Pasha, a British army major forges an unlikely friendship with the Arabian corsair’s rebellious son, a friendship that is tested and strengthened by a shared horror at the scenes unfolding around them.
I always say that I love reading historical fiction about eras I’m not familiar with. I was definitely not familiar with piracy in the Arabian Gulf in the early nineteenth century. I never realized that piracy was an important part of Arabian history, but in The Corsair (another word for pirate) I learned about high sea intrigue and betrayal. The book is a study in human behavior as everyone has their own agenda—the British at the height of their empire, Erhama bin Jaber, the most notorious pirate in the gulf, and there are strangely modern conflicts and rivalries, and the pursual of personal interests as the various factions fight their own corners, with the betrayals you would expect from those concerned only about themselves. I liked that the story was told, in part, from the Arabian point of view, which is a point of view little heard in fiction we read in the United States. The story is full with information about Arabian culture, which was all new for me, and which I enjoyed learning about. I haven’t read much about maritime history. I simply haven’t been all that interested in ships and sailing, but Al-Mahmoud’s storytelling—and Nowaira’s translation—kept me interested and reading.
The translation read smoothly, unlike some translations which can read with a choppiness. I found The Corsair to capture my attention, and I learned about a time I knew little about. I would recomment The Corsair for anyone with an interest in maritime history, in piracy, in the British Empire, and in Arabian history and culture.
Tracey Skeine received her B.A. degree in English Literature in June 2012. She is still working on her first novel set in Caesar’s Rome.