Cover image for The Abyssinian
The Abyssinian
Rufin, Jean-Christophe, 1952-
Uniform Title:
Abyssin. English
Publication Information:
New York : Norton, [1999]

Physical Description:
422 pages ; 25 cm
Added Author:
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A young French physician braves the wilds of Abyssinia to cure its king, then returns to France on an equally perilous mission to the court at Versailles. Along the way, he falls madly in love with the French consul's daughter and discovers the splendors of a great empire and civilization.

Author Notes

Jean-Christophe Rufin, a physician, is a former vice president of Doctors Without Borders, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. He lives in France.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Rufin's superb first novel, rife with political, religious, and romantic intrigue, has won the Prix Mediterranee and the Prix Goncourt in his native France. With historical fact as a springboard and his own knowledge of medicine and the African continent as resources and inspiration, Rufin introduces Jean-Baptiste Poncet, an apothecary/herbalist working in Cairo, Egypt, in 1699. By virtue of his low birth, Poncet only dreams of marrying fair Alix de Maillet, daughter of the French consul in Cairo. Alix, however, is equally smitten and pledges her love even though the two have not been formally introduced. Offered a chance to increase his social status by attending the ailing negus of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), Poncet sets off on an adventure that places him squarely in the middle of the conflict between opposing political forces in Egypt and France, and between rival priestly orders, the Jesuits and the Capuchins. While it may take readers a few chapters to acclimate, Rufin soon evokes the same sense of history and wonder as Michelle Jaffe in The Stargazer [BKL My 1 99]. --Melanie Duncan

Publisher's Weekly Review

French physician Rufin's extensively researched historical novel, winner of both the Prix Mediterran‚e and the Prix Goncourt, is a sprawling romance set in the Ottoman east during the time of Louis XIV. Religious rivalries dictate politics in 17th-century Cairo, where the Europeans live in uneasy alliance with the Muslims under Turkish authority. On orders from the Sun King, Monsieur de Maillet, the French consul in Cairo and an exile of the minor nobility, must come up with a scheme to open an embassy in Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), a richly endowed country penetrated by the Jesuits 50 years before, though now hostile to Christian powers. A doctor must be sent on the mission, to ingratiate himself with the ailing negus of Abyssinia, and an adventurous young Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Poncet, is found for the job. Poncet is an opportunist: registered as an apothecary, he holds no diploma in that profession or in medicine, which he also practices illegally. With one glance at the blushing, beribboned daughter of the consul, Alix de Maillet, the talented though lowborn free spirit Poncet agrees to undertake the mission in order to return with a knighthood and win Alix's hand. Rufin's prose attains a lively clip when describing the mood and byzantine politics of the era, showcasing the author's mastery of period and place. While Rufin relies too much on standard character types, from the sour, conniving father to the brash young inamorato to the innocent maiden and trusty, gruff sidekick, he surmounts their conventionality with skillful plot twists and well-maintained suspense. Readers will undoubtedly enjoy the exoticism of the setting and the historical detail, all rendered in a proficient translation. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In 18th-century Cairo, the French consul is ordered to make contact with far-off Abyssinia. The mission falls to a young French doctor who is in love with the consul's daughter. Gravely and gracefully written, with good characterization and a strong sense of time and place, this Prix Goncourt winner looks seriously at cultural differences and the way some people rise above them. But it's fun, too. (LJ 7/99) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.