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The Simurgh and the Nightingale

While researching women's hospitals in the early Ottoman Empire, Irishman Roger Derham found a letter in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. Written in the maghribi Arabic of North Africa it was signed by Catherine Cullen of Ireland. Derham's quest to find out who this woman was led to his writing this fascinating first novel of love, danger, and intrigue. In June 1631, Catherine Cullen, a barber-surgeon and free woman in Dublin, visits Baltimore in southwest Ireland. She is captured by Algerian pirates and taken to North Africa. Because of her rare skills she is given unusual freedoms on the ship and later as well. She spends a few years in North Africa and while there she falls in love with a Ragusian knight who is searching for a much-coveted scroll. She later goes to Constantinople where she becomes involved in setting up a place to provide health services. Their destinies seemed intertwined, as his quest leads him there as well. Their story ends in Ragusa during the devastating earthquake of 1667. This is a powerful and imaginative piece of historical fiction. Derham deftly weaves Christian, Judean, Muslim and Sufi mysticism to create this puzzling, strange, and often forbidding world of 17th century Mediterranean life and adventure.

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