The First Century After Beatrice by Amin Maalouf

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The First Century After Beatrice Translated from the French by Dorothy S. Blair

Winner of the 1993 Prix Goncourt

Five words from the blurb: beans, guarantee, birth, male, survival

I hadn’t heard of The First Century After Beatrice until it was recommended by A Fiction Habit, but I’m very pleased I read it and am surprised that this compelling, thought provoking book is not more well known.

The First Century After Beatrice begins with the discovery of a bean on an Egyptian market stall. This bean, derived from the scarab beetle, is said to guarantee the birth of a male child. Word quickly spreads and societies that favour male offspring are quick to take up the new invention. Slowly the population begins to be dominated by men and this book gives a realistic portrayal of the devastating effect this has on the human race.

The writing style was unusual in that the ideas were modern and very relevant to our society today, but the text felt as though it had been written a hundred years ago. It had the feel of a timeless classic, with fantastic quotable sections on almost every page:

‘You must think of public opinion as some bulky individual lying asleep. From time to time, he wakes up with a start, and you must take advantage of this to whisper an idea in his ear, but only the simplest, most concise idea, for he’s already stretching himself, turning over, yawning, he’s going to fall asleep again and you won’t be able to keep him awake or awaken him again.’

The pace was quite slow, but I was gripped to the moral dilemmas and interesting concepts that were introduced throughout. It reminded me of Blindness, one of my favourite books, in the way it took a simple idea and followed it through to its frighteningly realistic conclusion.

My only complaint was that the writing was quite detached from the horrors that were occurring. Normally this would be a big problem for me, but in this case I was so busy trying to decide what I’d do in each scenario that I didn’t mind the coldness.

Overall this was a fantastic book that deserves a far larger audience. Highly recommended.

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18 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    Hi Jackie,
    I am so pleased you enjoyed this book! A friend recently recommended 2 others of Maalouf’s; Samarkand and Balthasar’s Odyssey. I’m hoping to get round to at least one of these next year. I have also yet to read Blindness, but heard such amazing things about it – will dig that out of the library.
    Sarah

    1. Jackie says:

      Sarah, I’m definitely going to read more of Maalouf’s book now. I’ll see if any of them are available at my local library and keep an eye out for your reviews.

      I hope you enjoy Blindness – it is a lot more disturbing than this book, but I love books with emotional power.

  2. This sounds very interesting, more so even because I loved Blindness.

    Sometimes when the writing is detached, the horrors seem even worse because the reader is on their own, there is no one who “shares” your feelings.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I think what makes this book so scary is how realistic it is. Like ‘Blindness’ it shows how easily our society could collapse. I didn’t need that emotional attachment to a character to realise that this could easily happen in our world today and thinking about that had a big impact on me. I hope you decide to give it a try.

  3. JoV says:

    I have always wanted to read a book by Amin Malouf. I am amazed how widely read you are. I’m glad you like it. It is surprising to know Malouf writes about apocalypse theme just as good. I was marking for his “The Crusade through the Arab eyes” all this while.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, It sounds as though you’re doing better than me – I hadn’t even heard of him until last month! I think you’ll love this book so I hope you decide to give it a try.

  4. Laurie C says:

    I’m impressed by your reading variety, too! I don’t think I’ll tackle this one right away, but maybe in 2013.

    1. Jackie says:

      Laurie, My reading variety is simply due to the fact I’m easily bored and like to find something original. I hope you decide to read this. It is scarily realistic.

  5. stujallen says:

    I ve this and another by him on my tbr never seem to get to him really must try to next year ,sounds great as one would expect from a goncourt winner they seem better in recent years than the booker winners ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, Yes. I’m beginning to discover that the Booker isn’t always for me – so many of the other European prizes seem to reward more interesting books. I hope you get to try Maalouf soon – I think you’d like him.

  6. Yet to read anything by Amin Maalouf; but a friend recommended this very book recently…

    1. Jackie says:

      The Willoughby Book Club, What wonderful book taste your friend has :-) Hope you decide to read this one soon.

  7. Jenners says:

    Sounds intriguing. And it reminds me that I still need to try Blindness.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Blindness is such a classic. Yes, it is a bit disturbing, but in a good way. I think being reminded how fragile our society is is very important.

  8. The Journey says:

    My friend bought that before and he recommended it to me. I think I will buy that also.

    1. Jackie says:

      The Journey, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  9. markbooks says:

    This definitely looks up my street. Thanks for another middle-east/north-African tip-off!

    1. Jackie says:

      mark, I’m so pleased you like the sound of this one. It is such an important book and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

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