The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri (Levine Querido, 2023) is a fresh and unique historical fiction novel about life along the Silk Road of the medieval era. It is certainly not a straight-forward historical fiction, however. The delightful and unreliable narrator of the tale has his own motives for sharing the story. His biased admissions along the course of telling the story give us some “spoilers.” “That is why I killed him,” our narrator declares when he comes to the end of the first chapter, right when he meets Samir. With that fact in mind, his story unfurls like the adventure it was meant to be.
Our young narrator is an orphan who has escaped for his life and begs for mercy from those in the caravans along the road. Thus, Samir, a merchant, bargains for the life of the boy from the angry monks that want to kill him. But Samir is not as honest as Monkey (formally called Omar) has been raised to be. Monkey is horrified by Samir’s dishonesty, cheating, and so forth. But, in order to gain his freedom, Monkey finds himself saving Samir’s life multiple times. Will Monkey be able to buy his freedom before he is targeted along with Samir?
The book is funny. It has a Taklamakan desert setting, in the far ago middle ages era, which is not an era I’ve ever read about before. Trust me, I’ve specifically looked for a middle grade novel that takes place along the Silk Road — to go along with my Marco Polo Silk Road game! The what desert? I’m glad there is now a book that can help give life to this era of history!
Now, having read the whole book, I find myself wondering: did all of these people really want to kill Samir? Which things really happened? Could Monkey’s actual life have been different after all? All sorts of questions arise once we know Monkey is unreliable. It’s a brief middle grade novel, with full color illustrations for each chapter. It’s a pleasant book to pick up and a delight to read. Highly recommended.