One of the basic pieces of advice given to any aspiring writer of fiction is to show, rather than tell, the reader what is happening in the story. Maalouf's novel - in spite of his skill at characterisation, analogy, and turn of phrase - falls rather flat because at every stage we are only told of the unfolding tragedy, as in a history book, rather than shown its effects on people. Speculative fiction of this kind works best when we see how individuals are affected by the global tragedy, rather than hearing about it through characters who are geographically removed from the worst of its impact.
The narrator criticises the people "back then" at the start of the twenty-first century, as the tragedy began to make the news, for their indifference and removal from the subject, but sadly that is the reaction he provoked his this reader with his detatched, news soudbite-esque telling of the tale. ("And then, there was rioting in [insert name of fictional African country here].")
The very best passages in this novel are when the narrator speaks of his companion, Clarence, and his daughter, the eponymous Beatrice, and here the prose is shining with tenderness and love. Towards the end, events begin to threaten his loved ones directly, and the peril begins to feel real, but the danger never truly materialises.
In the end, this comes off more as an intellectual exercise in what-if than a living, breathing fiction.