The Emir’s Trace

When young historian Lia Winter’s uncle dies, she travels to Southern Italy to spend several weeks with her aunt who is a masciàre, a traditional herbalist. Lia quickly finds herself increasingly fascinated by her aunt’s archaic way of life and her canny wisdom. As a historian, she cannot help but try to get to the bottom of the mysterious stories and legends her aunt tells. Together with her new friend Alessandra, an antiquarian bookseller, Lia soon finds herself following a trail of astonishing secrets – a quest which, in the end, leads to the rediscovery of lost ancient Arabic manuscripts. 


“Janssen has created a moving story about life in southern Italy today but also in the late 800s. The dual timeline works surprisingly well, and the contrast between the time periods also illustrates some of the eternal questions every human grapples with, regardless of the era. (…) It is clear that Janssen has spent a fair amount of time researching the topic, and the result is an inspiring tale about friendship, life, and cultural differences. I highly recommend this book.”

Read the whole review here.

Helen Piper, The Historical Novel Society

The Emir’s Trace” is a hard-to-describe mix of different genres, but basically ‘simply’ a narrative about life. That does not sound exciting? But it is!

It draws attention to seemingly everyday secrets and decisions and shows how much one’s own life grows when on a embarking on an adventure. At the same time, the story is told in such a serene and honest way and the characters of the novel are very authentic, so that they are absolutely credible to the reader. Not as perfect, but as real persons.

In her narration, the author cleverly merges the present with the past – which impressed me the most: it is not the level of the medieval narrator, but the present, which above all appears alien. Simple life in Puglia as a blatant break from the very ordinary life of the main character sheds light on the question of what makes us happy and what really has value for us. On the other hand, the historical flashbacks seem (despite all the exoticism) extremely familiar: wars, conflicts, cultural domination and political entanglements between Orient and Occident.

The end of the narrative is exciting and leads the historical quest to a satisfying end, and at the same time avoided simple answers. I would be glad if the track of the Emir did not remain Lia’s last story.”

by reader Ihyestil (translated from German)

A ninth-century account of Bari’s (historical) last emir and the story of Lia’s search for the “treasure of the Giacomini” are the main ingredients of this “Apulian novel.” Lia is a young historian from the city of Worms, who visits her old-fashioned aunt in the Trulli Valley, gaining a wealth of experience and insights, and also finding the said “treasure”. Early Apulian history and present situation can be found in the novel as well as living legends, traditional healing methods, the formerly inhabited, partially painted caves, the construction of the trulli, or early monasticism and the cultural flowering brought about by the brief Saracen rule – all that finds its place in the novel. – Who loves Italy, especially the South, will like this novel.

by reader Ansgar S. (translated from German)

Goodreads reviews of The Emir’s Trace

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