From the Saxons and Danes warring in the British Isles, this month’s interview skews dramatically eastward and dives back two centuries in time, although the circumstances of war and unrest will seem remarkably familiar. Nanidat, head of the Maniakh trading house, has just returned from two years in Chang’an, the capital of Tang Dynasty China—three months’ away along the Silk Road from his home in Samarkand. It is 749 CE. The House of Maniakh—like Samarkand and the surrounding lands—is slowly recovering from a recent invasion by the Arabs, who have striven to impose their rule and their religion on the Zoroastrian and Buddhist Sogdians. Nanidat looks forward to a relaxing visit filled with wine, women, and poetry before he again mounts his camel to return to his beloved Chang’an. Instead, he is less than halfway through the opening reception before a pair of strangers try to murder him.
The next morning, his knife wound still raw, Nanidat finds himself bundled out of his house, on the road west to Bukhara, in search of a young woman whom he has loved as a sister—and perhaps a little more. A reluctant traveler, Nanidat soon finds himself enmeshed in a web of conspiracy and intrigue that threatens his beliefs about his family and its place in the larger world.
Dmitry Chen‘s The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas, translated by Liv Bliss (Edward and Dee, 2013) explores the events surrounding the decline of the Umayyad Caliphate, the rise to power of its successor state under the House of Abbas, the founding of Baghdad, and the conflict that underlies the current division between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, now playing out in Iraq. Follow Nanidat as he struggles, never quite certain where the next betrayal will come from, to puzzle out a path to safety before his would-be murderers succeed in their mission.