by Amin Maalouf
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A chance remark serving as catalyst for a profound journey of self-discovery sounds more becoming of postmodernist author Paul Auster than historical novelist Amin Maalouf. Yet the Lebanese writer of such acclaimed novels as Leo Africanus (1986), The Rock of Tanios (1993), and Balthasar’s Odyssey (2000) took inspiration for his latest book from an unexpected question about a Cuban Maalouf, and Origins, a memoir-cum–family history, is the product of the author’s plunge into his Orthodox/Catholic/Protestant clan’s recent past.
Maalouf grew up hearing that his grandfather Botros had sailed to Cuba in order to defend his emigrant brother, Gebrayel, against a lawsuit. Having learned Spanish en route, the brilliant Botros got Gebrayel duly acquitted and promptly returned to Lebanon. No longer content with family lore,
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