Vladimir Bartol is a Slovenian writer. He was born in 1903 and died in 1967, so he survived 1st and 2nd world war. Bartol was going to school in Trieste in Italy but after fascism started to rise, he was forced to move to school to Ljubljana in Slovenia. He finished studying biology and philosophy with doctorate. In Belgrade, he was the editor of newspaper Slovenian Belgrade weekly. He liked Sigmund Freud and his works. On Bartol`s writing work had influence Friedrich Nietzsche, ideas of Machiavelli, expressionism and psychoanalysis. He wrote Alamut while he lived in Paris, it is the greatest work of him, translated to 20 languages.
The novel Alamut is a story about Persian fortress in 11st century, which is named Alamut. The Alamut fortress was seized by leaders of Ismailis, Hasan ibn as-Sabah. He wants to gather a powerful army to attack Seljuk Empire which occupied Iran.
This story was inspiration for video game Assassin`s Creed.
The famous quote from this book: “Nothing is an absolute reality; all is permitted.”
Link to purchase: Alamut
The story opens when young girl Halima was purchased by Hassan to become houri (a lovely virgin girl in Muslim Paradise). Then the story continues with the journey of a young man ibn Tahir, who is according to his family`s wish, sent to Alamut intending to join the fortress troops. After some time in Alamut he proved his skills and characteristics very well. Soon ibn Tahir became a member of fedai, the elite squad of the most brave and smart soldiers. In hard training fedai soldiers are expected to obey orders without demur and sacrifice their lives if it will be necessary. During their training they are also convinced that after death they shall go to heaven immediately if they will die in the line of duty.
Meanwhile, Halima joins to other houris in the garden which Hassan has been building. The young girls are educated in many various arts by Hassan and the houri who is confident to him, Miriam. Hassan managed to achieve high level of obedience by deceiving his soldiers; he gave them drugs (hashish) to hit them and then ordered to carry them into the gardens behind the fortress. They woke up in gardens which were set up as a scene of heaven, including houris. After they spent some time there, fedayin were secretly drugged again and carried back to the fortress. Therefore, they truly believe that Allah has given Hassan the power to send anybody to Heaven for some period. Some of fedai soldiers also fall in love with houris and this was an advantage which Hasan can use.
Soon there comes a time when Seljuk army besieges Alamut. A few soldiers are captured and then Hassan decided to demonstrate his power to them. For a pair of fedayin he orders to kill themselves, Yusuf jumped off a tower, Suleiman stabbed himself, both did this without any hesitation but with desire to go to heaven. After that Hassan order ibn Tahir to go and kill the grand vizier of Seljuk sultan Nizam-al-Mulk, because Hassan wants to take revenge about al-Mulk`s treason long years ago. Just before vizier dies, reveals the truth to ibn Tahir, the true about Hassan`s deception.
At the fortress Alamut things became complicated. Upon hearing of ibn Tahir success, Hassan tells Miriam that Ibn Tahir is probably dead as a result of discovery, Miriam commits suicide from her disillusionment. Halima also commits suicide cause she realized that she`ll never be with Suleiman whom she fell in love with, but he kills himself. Ibn Tahir decided to go to Alamut again to kill Hassan. At the fortress Hassan receives him and have long talk, he also reveals him his true motto: “Nothing is an absolute reality, all is permitted”. After that, he lets ibn Tahir go to start a long journey around the world. Later another fedai kills the Seljuk Sultan and that`s how their empire collapsed. The fight for Seljuk throne begins. Hassan encloses himself into tower, determined to work until the end of his days. He transfers the power over the Ismaelits to the hands of his faithful dai, military and religious chefs.
The story of Alamut is really powerful. In the world history we can find many parallels with this story, if we talk about concept or if we talk about leaders. The leaders for comparison could be Osama bin Laden, Hitler, Mussolini. The concept of leading masses of people with strongly believes in God, in their leader, or in some idea is something impressive and through the history we see that in many countries (totalitarian regimes). It is easy to manipulate masses of people if you offer them something in which they believe very strongly, almost fanatical.
There is another aspect which we shouldn’t forget and that is the religion. If we look on the world globally, religion always had pretty important role, many times connected with the country`s leaders. Religion should be something sacred and learn only really good things and generally it is so, but in history there were many cases when religion or actually a church was misleading or manipulate people.
Instead of some parallels with some powerful regimes or radical religions in the world, the Alamut story is a bit different. The main leader Hassan is represented with sympathy, as an old Islamic man who is also intellectual and open-minded. He doesn’t terrify his own people but he psychologically terrifies his enemies. To his own people he offers everything what they need, including education and knowledge. The fedai soldiers are not bunch of blood thirsty wild man but they are well-educated and well-trained soldiers. But of course they are manipulated for higher purpose, they must at every cost achieve their goals.
The book Alamut is timeless, it contains historical, philosophical, psychological and idea aspects. And it is really worth to read. I read it three times in different periods of my life, perhaps now is the time to read it again 🙂