Abencerraje was written in Spanish in 1565 about events that may or may not have happened in the 1480s, when, as translator Jessica Knauss puts it in her introduction: "...Ferdinand and Isabella had retaken the most of the towns on the Iberian peninsula [as part of their policy of] making Spain a Christian country.... Needless to say, the Muslims, whose forebears had arrived nearly 800 years previously, did not consider themselves temporary occupants of the lands under dispute."
Abencerraje is the story of the friendship between two men separated by race, religion, culture and politics, but united by their respect for honour, courage, chivalry and love. The one, Rodrigo, was a Christian, Spanish knight; the other, Abinddarráez, was a Spanish Moor and a follower of Islam.
I was transported into a heroic medieval past that may or may not have existed, but surely should have. It is a tale that recalls the stories in the Arthurian cycle in which bold and true knights defending their honour and lady-loves.
I know no Spanish beyond the ability to ask for more beer, but it seems to me that Jessica Knauss has captured the flavour of the language and the time in her translation, without resorting to pseudo-medievalisms -- such as "quoth" , "doth" and "forsooth" -- that mar so many historical novels. She gives us the story, "straight up" in the voice of the anonymous Spanish narrator, with no modern asides or explanations save for a few useful footnotes that do not impede the flow.
A cursory examination on the web reveals that Abencerraje is heavily documented by scholars. Some question its authenticity; most are self-consciously scholarly. However, once it is shorn of obscure academic debate, Abencerraje is a good story that deserves the fresh translation Knauss offers.