Leo Africanus Book Analysis


The novel, Leo Africanus was written by Amin Maalouf as a memoir to his medieval travels. Africanus experienced a lot of heartbreak, loss and wins resulting in significant changes in his relationships with friends and foes. Maalouf used the book in the presentation of the role of Islamic culture and youth. Further, he demonstrated the unique role played by multicultural exposure to neutrality in perception. Africanus’ many names were not a result of lost creativity, and instead insinuated irony and desperateness. Africanus repeatedly adjusted his cultural fit as an instinct of survival in cultures.

Africanus was significantly exposed to varied cultures resulting in the changes in his identity. Subtly, Maalouf sought to present the identity of an individual as a weak link, susceptible to a wide variety of factors. Africanus’ was born as Hasan Al-Wazza but the many communities he interacted with had significant impacts on him.[1] The name Africanus was given as a link to his African background.[2] Africanus did not feel any connection to the cultures he was associated with by people who forced the names on him.

For example, while Africanus was not born in Africa, Africanus was given the name demonstrating linkage. The name came even as people knew that his father was not in any way associated with Africa, in turn confusing Africanus.[3] Other names implied on Africanus such as Johannes Leo introduced another personality in Africanus, in turn altering his identity.[4] The African in Africanus was not of his creation but people’s perception without his contribution, rendering him a victim of his life.

In one of his travels, Africanus was forced to convert to another region, in a bid to make him willing to foster the new religion’s beliefs. In Rome, Africanus was forced to convert to Christianity with a significant pension as motivation.[5] Pope Leo X was responsible for the forceful conversion of Africanus into Christianity motivated by his political ambitions. As a politician, Leo X was well aware of the influence from his rivals; France and Spain. The Pope used Africanus for his knowledge in Africa through information on their weakness such as the transformation of the Islam community into Christianity.

Given that Hasan, Africanus, had successfully changed almost voluntarily, the Pope anticipated better chances of winning. As a man on whom his religious and family affiliations were broken, Africanus was too broken for a family.[6] His life was more of adaptive than caring, as implied by his memoirs which were written in the language of his occupancy.[7] Africanus’ adaption to new culture especially broke his family, and his return home only saw to his reunification of a broken family.[8] Even at his family’s reunification, he was willing to delay it, to adapt to the change for he felt like he did not belong.

Hassan’s geographical envisions were more neutral than most people were comfortable. His multicultural exposure had significantly altered perceptions of people based on their cultures. Africanus was exposed to the adverse characteristics associated with different cultures. Consequently, Hasan, Africanis, perceived the society an independent factor to himself contrary to his religion.[9] Historians remain puzzled at Hassan’s shifts in cultural perceptions, allowing him the ease of “straddling of the religious and cultural divides of Islam and Christianity.”[10] In his Arabic background, Hassan was liable to death given his confirmed conversion to Christianity.[11] His uncle has tried to instill cultural royalty in Hasan while the inquisitors caught and tortured Muslims into conversion. Hasan was too weak to conform to the doctrines, thus, his waiver in religious affiliation.[12] Through the cultural neutrality, Amin presents the relevance of education and neutrality towards survival.

Hasan was highly educated and experienced in war and its cultural causes. As a young boy, he was curious about the causes of war and how best to ensure his safety. Amin implies the desire for the permanence of peace in Hasan, resonating with the real desire for peace.[13] Hasan’s uncle had tried to teach Africanus that defeat for some meant victory for others. However, Amin develops a compelling memoir on Africanus’ alterations of his culture allowing him survival in different cultures. Amin especially focuses on Hasan’s attitude to embrace change with a positive attitude.[14] Hasan was almost always eager to embrace change motivated by the desire for a new experience. From the presentation, Africanus is not a victim of change but a highly motivated traveler. From this presentation, Africanus’ adverse experiences served to fulfill his pursuit of experience with different people.


Dewi, Novita. 2011. “Formation of Youth Identity in Indonesian Islamic Chick Lit.” A Biannual Publication on the Study of Language and Literature 13 (1): 134-144. doi:10.9744/kata.13.1.134-146.

Maalouf, Amin. 1988. Leo Africanus. 1. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books.

Masonen, Pekka. 2011. “Leo Africanus: The Man with Many Names.” 1 (1): 115-143.

Tuer, Dot. 2016. “Common Ground: The Thematics of Dispossession in Contemporary Arab and Canadian Art.” Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas 2 (3): 264-277. doi: 10.1163/23523085-00203006.

[1] Novita Dewi, “Formation of Youth Identity in Indonesian Islamic Chick LiT” A Biannual Publication on the Study of Language and Literature 13,1 (2011); 13

[2] Amin Maalouf, “Leo Africanus” New Amsterdam Books, Chicago. (1986); 297

[3] Amin 298

[4] Amin 296

[5] Pekka Mosonen, “Leo Africanus: The Man with Many Times” Rodin 1 (2011); 124

[6] Ibid 130

[7] Ibid 131

[8] Amin 253

[9] Dot Tuer, “Common Ground: The Thematics of Dispossession in Contemporary Arab and Canadian Act” Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas 2,3 (2016); 265

[10] Ibid 265

[11] Amin 113

[12] Ibid124

[13] Ibid 124

[14] Ibid 118

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