Laury Silvers

The Lover: A Sufi Mystery

Calligraphy and background by Abdulhussein Alrekabi 2019 © Laury Silvers

Calligraphy and background by Abdulhussein Alrekabi 2019 © Laury Silvers


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Listen to my interview where I discuss bringing history to life in The Lover on New Books in Historical Fiction Podcast


Selected Reviews

Dr. Laury Silvers’ debut novel transports the reader to 10th century Baghdad, during the city’s golden age when it was one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world. Her exquisite descriptions of the city and erudite knowledge of its historical denizens render real the people of Baghdad to the reader, whether pious mystics, cynical wine merchants, or frontier soldiers turned detectives. It's a great mystery and its faithful portrayal of Baghdad makes it a compelling read for anyone interested in the history of Islam and the Medieval Middle East.

—Sherwan Hindreen Ali, a native Baghdadi, and graduate student in the Institute for Islamic Studies, McGill University

This is a novel that will both entertain readers and educate them about a wide range of subjects relating to intellectual, social and cultural history of the period in which it is set. It successfully weaves together fiction with meticulous historical research.

—Michael Mumisa, Cambridge Special Livingstone Scholar

With an informed, historical view of the spiritual atmosphere in medieval Baghdad, Laury Silvers has written an exciting mystery in lucid, gripping prose, bringing to life complex individuals of the past, moral agents both layered and conflicted. —Cyrus Ali Zargar, Al-Ghazali Distinguished Professor, UCF and Author of The Polished Mirror

From Fofky’s: “Silvers does a great job painting the time and place of this story lyrically. Her words pack a punch! When she describes ugly, she does it vividly. And when she describes beauty, love, metaphysical feelings, etc. you experience those too. In all, The Lover is a beautifully written historical Muslim thriller.”

Biography and Contact

This book series arises from my academic research on early Sufism—especially early pious, mystic, and Sufi women—and my personal stumbling as a Muslim on the Sufi path for the past thirty years. I was as a professor at Skidmore College and the University of Toronto teaching courses on Islam, Sufism, and Gender. I am presently a visiting research fellow in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. I’m the child of storytellers, so I suppose this was inevitable, the comedian Phil Silvers and Evelyn Silvers, a woman of Irish descent who advised that the truth should never get in the way of a good story. I’ve tried to make the truth into a good story. These books arise out of my desire to talk about the people and places of this time beyond the constraints of academic skepticism. They are my love song to these early pious folk, mystics, and Sufis as people—who lived in a particular historical moment with all its complications—and my experience of Islam.

I live in Toronto with my partner, Michael and my doggo, Billie Girl, and near my stepdaughters, Kaya and Mishi, their partners Ryan and Ben, and their mother, Eleonore. I am also a family member of a beautiful, inclusive, local Muslim Sufi order.

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 Reader Reviews

This is story telling with feeling, depth and joy. From the very first scene, right until the end when a mystery, a brutal murder of a child, is finally solved -- and no, I had not an inkling about who had done it-- the narrative captivates. The story line is clear and flowing, the characters nuanced and realistic, and the main question, that of a boy’s death, and what made it happen, who was responsible – all these keep the reader involved. In other words, first and foremost this is a good read. But it is more than just a read.

This is a Sufi tale of mystic love and human foibles, of the spiritual journeys that are possible, and attainable; and of the love of the Divine, not just as a lofty, pious aspiration, but rather in its everyday, often astonishingly humble manifestations. Set in Baghdad in the 10th century of the Christian Era, it introduces the reader to a complex social structure stratified by class, power, status, gender, and age, and brings to life characters who are from these various strata, as they stumble and lurch, fail and succeed -- sometimes flying high and sometimes not, through life.

I really like the ways in which each character is introduced and built up, slowly and intricately. The women stand out for me, especially Zaytuna, a very ordinary woman with a powerful story inside her. The characters are interesting and their actions and decisions are complicated and shaped just as much by their own idiosyncrasies as that of other people in their lives.

Laury Silvers writes of a society about which one might have had a one-dimensional view, with nuance and depth, bringing out the rich layers of Baghdad without making the city and its people unduly exotic or romanticizing them in any way. In the end, love of the Divine and its deep resonance inside the ordinary human heart is what I remember the most about this book. —Azak,

I loved that it was a mystery, right from the beginning, I was totally captivated by the story and by Laury's prose and descriptions. I laughed out loud at the Hadith scholars scene, it was just brilliant. Laury has a map of Baghdad on her web page where I was able to follow Zaytuna as she wandered around the city. I never guessed what had really happened with the boy.

The characters are all well depicted, it is as well a Sufi story of mystic love, and our humanness. I was unaware that Junayd, Nuri and al-Hallaj were contemporaries. I read it once for the story, and the second time to deepen in the Love.

I am so happy that it is Book 1 in a series, and grateful that Laury has the gift of making the complex simple and so enjoyable. —Hayati,


Reading this book gave me the same feeling I had reading The Name of the Rose. Drawn completely into a very specific time and place so vivid that right now I can visualize the courtyard in front of Zaytuna's room and Salman's shop and the long walk through Baghdad the way I could imagine the passages through the library in Name of the Rose. It also has the same sense of the deadly importance of scholarship -- no spoilers but there are amazing plot points around hadith scholars and charismatic Sufis and ideological conflicts that really capture how intense it must have been in 10th century Baghdad. I was also fully drawn into the timeless personal struggles of Zaytuna and Zaid and Mustapha -- trauma, piety, self-doubt -- and keep thinking about how their lives could unfold. I'm a sucker for historical mysteries and seek them out but, frankly, most of them are crap. Only rarely do I get to book 2 in a series. With The Lover, I was only halfway through when I starting wondering what would be next. (Disappointed that I have to wait but it looks like #2 is on the way.) Looking forward to hearing what other people think about it. —SMP,

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