Basem L. Ra’ad, a Professor (PhD, Toronto), has just released a historical novel about an ancient slave revolt in Sicily, entitled Slave King: Rebels against Empire, in which he recreates events and re-interprets perceptions of the Mediterranean region. Reviewers regard the work as “a brilliant, compelling and deeply researched, re-telling of popular struggle,” “a moving story that casts light on many strifes in our times”–“a minor classic.” Ra’ad has taught at universities in Canada and abroad, initiated community and academic projects, studied educational curricula, organized international conferences, and published in major journals, including PMLA, Modern Fiction Studies and American Literature on topics such as literature, linguistics, landscape aesthetics, cultural studies, travel writing, and political issues. His book Hidden Histories: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean provides an alternative reading of the long history of a region commonly called “the Middle East,” “the cradle of civilization,” and “the Holy Land,” that emphasizes continuities among its people and discredits old and new myths using the most recent scholarship. Its chapters cover ancient regional history, the development of polytheistic and monotheistic religions, the invention of religious sites, Ugaritic discoveries, writing systems, and present reflections on such subjects as identity, appropriation, self-colonization, place names, and retrieval of cultural heritage. The book has been described by critics as “perhaps the first corrective history of Palestine,” “a brilliant tour de force of recovery, de-colonization, re-vision, and inclusivity.” His latest novel is Slave King: Rebels against empire: A Novel published by Daraja Press.

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  • Slave King: Rebels against empire: A Novel

    In thirty chapters, the narrative develops the incredible story of how a boy (Younis/Eunus/Euno) captured as a slave in Afamia, Syria challenges the Roman Empire in Sicily, circa 140-132 BCE. The chapters dramatize the circumstance of his capture, his experiences as a tutor, the growth of his prophetic and magical abilities, events that fomented the uprising (cruelties, rapes, crucifixions), the role of female characters, connections to other historical events (e.g., the destruction of Carthage), as well as scenes of an exorcism, an ancient marriage ceremony, a play performed outside a besieged city, and several battles against the Roman legions. An epilogue by an imagined contemporary narrator, who explains why she wrote the novel, ends the work. In the chapters and epilogue, while using ancient sources to some extent (sparse and biased as they are), the work departs from them to resolve contradictions, fill in gaps, and present an alternative narrative of historical and cultural issues. It’s intended to remedy the neglect of this story in both ancient and modern sources, reverse the demonization explicit and implicit in them, and remedy the imbalance in the dominant constructs. It promotes the event as significant, certainly just as important as (if not more than) the Spartacus rebellion seven decades afterwards, or others that are commonly recounted. A significant aspect of this revolt comes from the fact that Younis was able to forge a coalition of slaves, farmers and herders that defeated Roman armies and established an independent entity on more egalitarian principles. The novel also touches on a range of topics, such as prophecy, magic, languages, the construct of Western civilization, representation of regional cultures, customs, and mythologies. An idealized statue of this rebel stands today in Enna, Sicily, along with an inscription that seems designed to appeal to tourists, yet Younis’ rebellion contradicts the dominant notions promoted in Italy and throughout the West, especially the identification with imperial Rome. This novel is intended to remedy his legacy. A fictionalised account of a slave rebellion in Roman Sicilia more than sixty years before Spartacus, it tells the story of the slave Younis from Afamia (now in Syria), a mystic and seer who led a great uprising sustained much longer than Spartacus’.