I'd never heard of Frank Yerby before and bought the book after reading a list of recommended historical fictions at Amazon.
At a glance, the language seemed difficult and I wondered if the author was not an English native. Later I found that he was an African American from Georgia who left America in 1955 in protest of some racial discrimination. He lived in Spain since until his death in 1991. He did his researches very well.
The Odor of Sanctity, A Novel of Medieval Moorish Spain (1965) is one of the best novels I have ever read. As soon as I could get used to his language, the story became very engaging. I wouldn't mind reading more works from Mr. Yerby.
Set in the 9th century of Spain, in span of about 30 years, the story centers around 'Alaric Teudisson', or 'Aizun ibn al Qutiyya' as the Moors called him, and his journey as the people around him believing he was a saint. Alaric had a beautiful face like an angel, his voice rang like a bell, his body was surrounded by light, and his touch healed the sick and raised the dead; but he himself thought he was an ordinary man because he couldn’t ran away from his carnal sins, he didn't have any faith, and that it was by love that he could ease the sick of the soul, and that the people believed what they wanted to believe.
It was his mother who first discovered that his son had ‘an odor of sanctity’ because he claimed he had had a nightmare when he mother rushed to his room after hearing his cry, and he told her how Santa Fredegunda had visited him, while in fact the odor was the trace of a female slave’s cheap perfume who had fled the room after his refusal.
Alaric’s life was miserable. His only brother died, his mother was murdered, his sister was kidnapped, his wife committed adultery with their slave, and his girlfriend killed herself with their unborn baby. On the peak of his grief, he tried to kill himself but could be saved, and as a result on his chest a cross was branded, the sign which confirmed that he was really a saint, for those who saw it.
The story is fast paced and very rich. What I really like, is how people at that time could live in peace despite the differences of their faiths (Jews, Moslems, Christians), although in the end it was ruined because of some people's arrogances.
Alaric is an ideal character, a wise man who accepts people no matter who they are, no matter what their religion is, and no matter the colour of their skin is. I quote a passage from the book where this fair-haired, blue-eyed man had a discussion with a black-skinned woman, when she asked him if he despised her because of her ugliness, and he answered: “What boots is that ‘tis not the same as the pale fairness of my race, my tribe? ‘Tis beauty, still. Take in your hand a violet, and a rose. The violet’s swart, the rose is fair. Wouldst say then that only roses are pleasing to the sight and toss all violets out to wither on the ground?”