On the Isle of Antioch
Alec, a press artist with an impressive track record, settles on a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean. He has little contact with his neighbor, a solitary woman who wrote a cult book years ago, before withdrawing from public life. That is, until a gigantic power failure cuts them off from the rest of the world, and all of a sudden they find themselves dependent on each other. The world appears to be on the brink of nuclear war and the collapse of civilization seems imminent. Just who are the mysterious friends of Empedocles, the gang of otherworldly protectors who came swooping in to interfere with the US presidency and cure all illness? Should we trust them? On the Isle of Antioch is a suspenseful novel with mythological roots, written in the dreamy language of the classics, by internationally renowned scholar Amin Maalouf.
Amin Maalouf was born in Beirut and lived there until the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975 … Read more
Book Club Questions
- How did you read On the Isle of Antioch—as a thriller, a philosophical tale, a love story, all of the above?
- Which questions were left unanswered at the end? What left you thinking?
- Do you think the characters’ experience of contact with these “unexpected brothers” captures a pattern of human history in a particularly original way? What makes it original?
- What do you make of Ève’s disaffection with the world? Is it an understandable attitude given her background? Or is it bland, perhaps even self-indulgent, misanthropy?
- Though the trigger for the events was the threat of nuclear war, it’s medicine that becomes the key point of contact and friction between “us” and “them.” Is that a coincidence?
- The descendants of Empedocles build an advanced and enlightened hidden society. What kinds of different societies might come from other Ancient Greek figures?
- What do you think of the concept that one person’s nobility might cause thousands of years of nobility? Is it an extreme form of “Great Man” thinking? Or are things different here—does Empedocles mainly function as an idea, rather than a concrete source of the hidden brothers’ great society?
- Or do you disagree—are they so great? Are their reasons for keeping their advances to themselves compelling?
- What is the meaning of Queen Electra’s appearance?
- Do you see a parallel at the end between Alexandre sitting between Adrienne and Ève, and President Milton sitting between Queen Electra and the first lady?
- The ending seems hopeful. What will the future look like after humanity’s encounter with this hidden civilization?
- How else can you imagine things might develop after such an encounter?
- Have you read other books by Amin Maalouf, perhaps Adrift (also published by World Editions)? Are there any common themes?
Praise for Amin Maalouf
“Maalouf is a thoughtful, humane and passionate interlocutor.”
New York Times Book Review
“Amin Maalouf is one of that small handful of writers, like David Grossman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who are indispensable to us in our current crisis.”
New York Times
“Maalouf’s fiction offers both a model for the future and a caution, a way towards cultural understanding and an appalling measure of the consequences of failure. His is a voice which Europe cannot afford to ignore.”
“Maalouf writes intriguing novels of exceptional quality.”
“At this time of fundamentalist identity seekers, Amin’s is a voice of wisdom and sanity that sings the complexity and wonder of belonging to many places. He is a fabulist raconteur; he tells vastly entertaining adventure stories that are also deeply philosophical.”
ARIEL DORFMAN, author of Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile
“Amin Maalouf seems to follow Flaubert in looking at the East, but he centres the narrative differently: it’s the Orient telling itself. You learn about the multiplicity of cultures, their openness and permeability; that the boundaries between religions are not as hard and fast as we’ve been led to believe.”
AAMER HUSSEIN, author of 37 Bridges
“Amin Maalouf, one of the Arab world’s most influential writers, weaves extraordinary tales in his novels, mixing historical events, romantic love, fantasy, and imagination. Yet at the core of all these well-crafted works lies a deep element of philosophical and psychological inquiry into the nature and condition of contemporary man.”
American University of Beirut
Praise for On the Isle of Antioch
“A marvelous parable.”
Le Figaro littéraire
“In this work of speculative fiction, remarkable men lay claim to Ancient Greece and heal an ailing mankind.”
“The latest novel of the Franco-Lebanese author isn’t just a novel. It’s a warning to all passengers: we’re moving in a dangerous direction. A cry of alarm, but also of hope.”
“One of his most powerful novels.”
“Maalouf revives the Greek miracle as an idea but avoids Manicheism. He stimulates reflection without ever impinging on the pleasure of reading a thriller.”
“Amin Maalouf has concocted a complex, nerve-racking thriller with mythological roots.”
Livres Hebdo Le Magazine
“Without pontificating, Amin Maalouf broaches very important topics, throughout all the delicious suspense.”
“The latest Amin Maalouf is an intricate thriller, which can be read on various levels, resonating with the unprecedented crisis our civilization is facing.”
“A philosophical thriller in the form of a cry of alarm. … Mixing speculation and philosophical reflection, Amin Maalouf has written a captivating humanist story, troubling in the way it resonates with our time.”
“Between dystopia and philosophical tale, Amin Maalouf imagines, in a world on the brink of self-destruction, salvation thanks to the fraternity of a small number.”
“On the Isle of Antioch isn’t properly speaking a work of speculative fiction, but rather a fable about what could happen if governments continue to make bad decisions.”
C Cultura (Switzerland)
Praise for Adrift
“Stunning … Adrift traces modern events that have resulted in severe geopolitical breakdown, leaving the world ‘utterly incapable of marshalling the solidarity necessary to deal with a threat of this magnitude’—the climate emergency.”
Globe and Mail
“In a year of pandemic, social breakdown, race riots and, for those in Beirut, exploding ammonium nitrate, you do not have to be a perpetual doomsayer to politely disagree. Now writers do not ask for whom the bell tolls, they simply assume it tolls for everyone and focus on the question: why? One worthy stab at an answer comes from a source underappreciated in Britain—Amin Maalouf, a thinker with a novelist’s imagination and a fine understanding of the broad sweep of history … Maalouf does not offer a clear solution other than the obvious; that we should listen to each other more. He does not preach, and perhaps therein lies our only way forwards to tackle our shared future with the grace and understatement that is the hallmark of his own writing.”
“Adrift is so movingly written and so all-encompassing that it would behoove all intelligent humans, and those who are aiming to understand the connections between seemingly disconnected events, to get this book, read it, absorb it and reflect on the ideas the author puts forward about the collapse of civilizations, the decline of civility and the nature of empires.”
New York Journal of Books
“An unavoidably personal and sometimes contentious account, it’s born of a post-War liberal worldview which has been unfashionable for some time but still holds much of value.”
The Herald Scotland
“Adrift is an insightful and profoundly disturbing interpretation of recent world history—and our uncertain future.”
“Adrift is both an elegy for the Levant in which he grew up, and a reflection on the violent fragmentation and political malaise of globalized capitalism. In Maalouf’s portrait, the world in which Covid-19 made its calamitous appearance is disoriented and dangerously unequal, fragmented into identity-based groups, at war with one another yet all beholden to the market.”
The London Review of Books
“The writer and scholar delves back into his own history to analyze the tragic consequences of the shock prophesized by Samuel Huntington.”
Le Figaro Magazine
“True change is possible: Maalouf shows us possible ways forward in magnificent prose filled with wisdom.”
“A marvelous, luminous piece of writing.”
“Wonderful and terrifying.”
La Grande Librairie – France 5
“A powerful voice.”
“Over rupture and conflict, Amin Maalouf has always preferred epics of encounters, beginnings, and connections.”
“An alarming report on the state of the world.”
Praise for The Disoriented
“A thoughtful, philosophically rich story that probes a still-open wound.”
“A powerful and nostalgic current of lost paradise and stolen youth.”
“A great, sensitive testimony on the vulnerability of the individual in an age of global migration.”
STEFAN HERTMANS, author of War and Turpentine and The Convert
“There are novels which reverberate long after you’ve finished reading them. Amin Maalouf’s The Disoriented is such a novel. This is a voyage between the Orient and the West, the past and the present, as only the 1993 Goncourt Prize winner knows how to write it.”
“Amin Maalouf gives us a perfect look at the thoughts and feelings that can lead to emigration. One can only be impressed by the magnitude and the precision of his introspection.”
Le Monde des Livres
“Maalouf’s new book, The Disoriented, marks his return to the novel with fanfare. It is a very endearing book.”
“Maalouf makes a rare incursion into the twentieth century, and he evokes his native Lebanon in a state of war, a painful subject which until now he had only touched upon.”
“The great virtue of this beautiful novel is that it concedes a human element to war, that it unravels the Lebanese carpet to undo its knots and loosen its strings.”
“Amin Maalouf has an intact love of Lebanon inside him, as well as ever-enduring suffering and great nostalgia for his youth, which he has perhaps never spoken of as well as he has in this novel.” Page des Libraires
“Full of human warmth and told in an Oriental style, this is a sensitive reflection told through touching portraits.”
“A great work, which explores the wounds of exile and the compromises of those who stay.” L’Amour des Livres
“What Maalouf discusses in this novel is nothing less than the conflict between the Arab and Western worlds. A personal, honest search for the greatest challenge of current world politics.”
“Maalouf addresses themes such as multiculturalism, friendship, and disruptive conflict in a pleasant style. The Disoriented is a book that enriches readers by providing insight into the memories and facts of life of people from other cultures.”
“Maalouf manages to drag the reader into a beautiful story that honors friendship and loyalty as essential parts of a decent human existence. He does not judge his characters. No one is completely bad, no one is completely good, all of his characters are recognizable people who are attractive because of their flaws.”
De Wereld Morgen
“The Disoriented is the new, long-awaited novel by Amin Maalouf, and perhaps his most personal, emotional, and compelling. A novel about memory, friendship, love.”
La Compagnia del Mar Rosso
Why You Should Read This Book
“Translating is, at its best, an almost visceral experience, and that was absolutely the case with On the Isle of Antioch. I loved the experience of being plunged into the world Maalouf evokes, its landscape almost familiar yet uncannily apart. Maalouf writes with incredible attention to detail, both physical and psychological, which made translating this book an absolute joy.”
NATASHA LEHRER, the translator