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Reviewed by:
  • E. Michael Gerli

Cervantes, Algiers, Captivity, Mediterranean, Multicultural, Multilingual, Interfaith Relations, Diego de Haedo, Antonio de Sosa, Luis Cernuda, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Luis Antonio de Villena

María Antonia Garcés, Ed.; Diana De Armas Wilson, Trans. An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam: Antonio de Sosa’s Topography of Algiers (1612). Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 2011. 432 pp.

An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam is a fascinating eyewitness account of daily life in the Turkish Regency of Algiers during the late sixteenth century written by Fr. Antonio de Sosa. The original work, edited and published in Castilian by the Benedictine monk Fray Diego de Haedo under the title of Topographia, e historia general de Argel, appeared in Valladolid in 1612, after de Sosa’s death. At the time of its publication, it was attributed by Fray Diego to his eponymous uncle, the Archbishop of Palermo, Diego de Haedo. Until now, the author of the Topographia has thus always been listed erroneously as Archbishop de Haedo. Its true author, as shown here definitively by María Antonia Garcés, was Dr. Antonio de Sosa, a distinguished Portuguese theologian and cleric who composed the Topographia while he was held captive in Algiers in the company of his friend Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote.

Through painstaking research, Garcés has been able to determine de Sosa’s full identity and show how he was a respected member of the Hispano-Italian ecclesiastical bureaucracy of the late sixteenth century with close ties to the papacy. In her meticulous introduction, Garcés provides important new details on de Sosa’s life, which had remained unknown, while skillfully exploring the motives for hiding de Sosa’s authorship of the Topographia and attributing his work to another man. In brief, the rationale for the change in authorship can be found in De Sosa’s resignation from the Augustinian Order in 1581, the suspicions raised by his “sister” and “nephew,” who were likely his long-time par-amour and his son, and the ire of Philip II at these disclosures. The historical importance of de Sosa’s book, as well as the current vibrant interest among Spanish, French, and Anglo-American historians in the history of the multicultural, multilinguistic world of Christians and Muslims in North Africa during the sixteenth century, makes de Sosa’s identity and authorship, along with the intriguing facts concerning the publication his Topographia under another man’s name, of crucial interest to contemporary scholars of early modernity in both the East and the West.

Written by de Sosa while imprisoned in the dungeons of Algiers from 1577 to 1581, the Topographia (translated here under the title An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam) presents a rich array of observations on captives, corsairs, galley slaves, Jews, and Christian converts to Islam, while it provides an extraordinarily vivid picture of life in Algiers during the 1570s and 80s. During his captivity, Sosa lived in intimate contact with his captors and thus forged close relations with them, [End Page 237] which offered him an inside look at daily life in Algiers in the 1570s. While in Algiers, he also served as a spy for Philip II, which leads Garcés to believe that the Topographia was begun originally with the intention that it serve as an intelligence report to the king. Most importantly, however, the book offers crucial insights into the permeable nature of the boundaries between Christians and Muslims in the Mediterranean during this period, while it paints a dramatic portrait of Algiers as a crossroads of civilizations—a sophisticated, diverse, multilingual society consisting of Turks, Arabs, Berbers, European Christians, Jews, apostates, and renegades from countless nations. De Sosa’s literary and ethnographic account of Algiers under the Turks not only interrogates the facile received distinctions between “East” and “West” at this crucial moment in early modern history, but also highlights the life of his friend, Cervantes, who would go on to write what is arguably the world’s best known secular book, and who is the subject of one of the episodes recounted in the book.

Antonio de Sosa’s account of Algiers is a must...


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pp. 237-239
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