When young historian Lia Winter’s uncle dies, she travels to Southern Italy to spend several weeks with her aunt who is a masciàre, a traditional herbalist. Lia quickly finds herself increasingly fascinated by her aunt’s archaic way of life and her canny wisdom. As a historian, she cannot help but try to get to the bottom of the mysterious stories and legends her aunt tells. Together with her new friend Alessandra, an antiquarian bookseller, Lia soon finds herself following a trail of astonishing secrets - a quest which, in the end, leads to the rediscovery of lost ancient Arabic manuscripts.
Ursula Janssen, born 1978, is an archeologist and freelance author and now lives with her husband and daughter in southern Italy, after spending several years living and working in various countries in Africa and the Middle East. She writes mostly historic novels but has also published a novel for young readers.
I am an avid reader of historical fiction novels. I found The Emir’s Trace to be extremely informative yet entertaining and intriguing at the same time. The story captures and holds your interest, involving you in an adventure that is filled with enlightening nuances, twists and turns and historical references. I learned a great deal about the history of Puglia and various spiritual practices. This novel is truly in the spirit of Umberto Eco and other great fictional novel authors. I highly recommend it.
Unlike most stories of a hunt for an ancient document, the modern-day characters do not know it exists until right at the end. A young historian and an antiquarian bookseller are only trying to find the true story behind a folk story about a treasure. The reader, on the other hand, has been presented with the Emir's life story in instalments (and italics) throughout the novel, only discovering the helpful list of historical characters as an appendix.
I loved the portrayal of Aunt Jann's trullo house in Apuleia, and the description of her self-sufficient lifestyle, which made me want to visit that part of Italy. Clautrophobics will be terrifed by the exploration of the cave in which the book is discovered. Otherwise, the modern story is lightweight, and the medieval one did not grab my attention. Just one remark from the end of the book is something to take away. "Zia Jann was glad to have contributed to a discovery where nobody gained direct financial profit." Ironically, both Lia and Alessandra found their career prospects and personal lives enhanced, and Jann has the pleasure of Lia's extended visit. It just goes to show that behind an implausible folk tale, there may be a kernel of historical truth, and even a real treasure.