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Alamut [Paperback]

Vladimir Bartol , Michael Biggins

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Book Description

Nov. 20 2007
Alamut takes place in 11th Century Persia, in the fortress of Alamut, where self-proclaimed prophet Hasan ibn Sabbah is setting up his mad but brilliant plan to rule the region with a handful elite fighters who are to become his "living daggers." By creating a virtual paradise at Alamut, filled with beautiful women, lush gardens, wine and hashish, Sabbah is able to convince his young fighters that they can reach paradise if they follow his commands. With parallels to Osama bin Laden, Alamut tells the story of how Sabbah was able to instill fear into the ruling class by creating a small army of devotees who were willing to kill, and be killed, in order to achieve paradise. Believing in the supreme Ismaili motto “Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” Sabbah wanted to “experiment” with how far he could manipulate religious devotion for his own political gain through appealing to what he called the stupidity and gullibility of people and their passion for pleasure and selfish desires.


The novel focuses on Sabbah as he unveils his plan to his inner circle, and on two of his young followers — the beautiful slave girl Halima, who has come to Alamut to join Sabbah's paradise on earth, and young ibn Tahir, Sabbah's most gifted fighter. As both Halima and ibn Tahir become disillusioned with Sabbah's vision, their lives take unexpected turns.


Alamut was originally written in 1938 as an allegory to Mussolini's fascist state. In the 1960's it became a cult favorite throughout Tito's Yugoslavia, and in the 1990s, during the Balkan's War, it was read as an allegory of the region's strife and became a bestseller in Germany, France and Spain. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the book once again took on a new life, selling more than 20,000 copies in a new Slovenian edition, and being translated around the world in more than 19 languages. This edition, translated by Michael Biggins, in the first-ever English translation.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: North Atlantic Books (Nov. 20 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781556436819
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556436819
  • ASIN: 1556436815
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 16 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #64,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“If Osama bin Laden did not exist, Vladimir Bartol would have invented him.”—L’Express“...an epic novel of conspiracies, love stories, and subtle religious and philosophical subtexts that bravely confronts the issue of political extremism.”—Ricardo Arturo Ríos Torres, La Prensa“...an adventure story from 1938 which transforms itself ... into a nightmare novel of the new century.”—Oliver Maison, Journal de la Culture"This new edition of Alamut is gorgeous...a fascinating historical drama that triumphs in its exploration of modern themes."—The Midwest Book Review

About the Author

Vladimir Bartol (1903-1967) was a Slovene intellect and journalist living in the Trieste region of Italy prior to World War II. An early follower of Jung and Freud, and Slovenia's first translator of Nietzsche, Bartol wanted to fuse psychology and literature to with the story of the world's first terrorist to tell the story of Mussolini. Bartol's view of Mussolini was ambiguous; he originally wanted to dedicate Alamut to the dictator, but was convinced otherwise by his publisher. Bartol spent nearly a decade writing Alamut, which was the first book of a projected trilogy. He went on to write several minor works, short stories and plays, but never wrote another novel. He died in 1967.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deftly researched and presented historical novel Jan. 9 2005
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
First published sixty years ago, Alamut is a literary classic by Slovenian writer Vladimir Bartol, a deftly researched and presented historical novel about one of the world's first political terrorists, 11th century Ismaili leader Hasan ibn Sabbah, whose machinations with drugs and carnal pleasures deceived his followers into believing that he would deliver them to a paradise in the afterlife, so that they would destroy themselves in suicide missions for him. Flawless translated into English (and also published in eighteen other languages), Alamut portrays even the most Machiavellian individuals as human - ruthless or murderous, but also subject to human virtues, vices, and tragedies. An afterword by Michael Biggins offering context on the author's life, the juxtaposition of his writing to the rise of dictatorial conquest that would erupt into World War II, and the medly of reactions to its publication, both in the author's native Slovenia and worldwide, round out this superb masterpiece. An absolute must-have for East European literature shelves, and quite simply a thoroughly compelling novel cover to cover.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic and lyrical July 13 2005
By A. D. DiRenzo - Published on Amazon.com
I can not deny that Alamut is a fascinating historical novel but it is also so much more. It is a hauntingly eloquent work that combines poetry and prose in perfect harmony without being heavy handed or prolix. Enrapt by the story, I was transported by the language. Alamut was easily one of the most beautifully written and articulately translated books I have ever read.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read both for entertainment and information July 11 2005
By Thomas Bombadillo - Published on Amazon.com
As the former reviewer states, Alamut is an excellent historical novel. I think any reader who is interested in what is obviously the burgeoning issue of contemporary global society, involving the clash between 'Western Society' and middle-eastern islamic cultures, should get a copy of this book. Alamut not only helps one realize how rich, varied, and old some of the cultures involved in this issue are, but helps remind one that there isn't really an 'us vs. them', and that there is as little a 'them' as there is an 'us'. On top of being historically informative and intriguing, this book is very entertaining. And not only is it a fairly quick read, but one that is broadly accessible to many ages and personalities. I would highly recommend this book to anybody who wants to know more about the history of an amazingly culturally-rich area of the world, or anybody who just wants a good book to read and likes stories about love, action, and intrigue.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You're missing the point... Nov. 18 2010
By Alex - Published on Amazon.com
"Alamut" should not be read as a historical document. It is, was, and will always be meant to be a work of fiction, and a pretty good one. The plot is divided into three interweaving stories: The first we are introduced to is about a girl named Halima, which has a lighthearted and dreamlike feel to it, complete with bizarre plot elements that seem to come out of nowhere and melodrama you'd expect to find in a girl's YA novel. The second is the story of Ibn Tahir, which is essentially a high school adventure with more stabbing. His scenes are the most action oriented of the three. Finally, we have the top dog Hasan Ibn Sabbah's, which is the most complex and cerebral, given it's eccentric protagonist. There are a couple of nagging issues that kept this book from being a real page turner, though. The main problem is the narration. You always feel like you're watching these events from the outside, there's no intimacy between the reader and the events on the page. Second is the god awful poetry sections. Poetry should never be translated, it will always sound forced and amateurish. All 'n all, Alamut's pretty good. The poor narration really weighs down the drama, and the triple-narrative makes for an uneven tone, but some readers, like myself, will really dig the experimental tinge of that kind of plot structure.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiction or History ?! Aug. 19 2005
By Fateh A. Bazerbashi - Published on Amazon.com
He is mistaken who is searching in this book for a historical (reality), and is mistaken who reads it as a research or a dogmatic study.

Firstly , this work is a ( novel ) , id est. it tells , like any other novel , the story of characters , places , and epochs whose credibility rests on the script's frame .

Secondly, it is a (historical novel) that is the writer leans on history to tell his story.

This means by no chance that Bartol is re-reading history as a (fact), rather, he is creating a new narration which is this very novel that is read.

Alamut castle, the characters ibn-al-sabbah, Chajjam, Nizam-al-Molk, and the process of power degradation in Persia during 1092, all of these are elements that happened in history but in this novel they are merely narrative tools in a script that grabs its integrity from being read by us.

Vladimir Bartol ( 1906-1967 ) finished writing this novel in 1938 , in an era that was typified by the emergence of totalitarian theories and the existence of important political individuals who were aiming for a new world order set by their concepts.

Undebatably that special historical circumstance had a major role in leading the author towards the (sheik of the mountain)'s hypnotic nature to make of him the focal point of interest in his novel, supported by many stories written by historians, and by what their books implied of mythical propaganda that hailed one of the most cunning leaders of the Islamic political history in Iran.

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