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This page is being used to develop content for a polished article on the novel "The Abyssinian" by Jean-Christophe Rufin. If you have inadvertently stumbled upon this page, please excuse the mess.

Also, some of the character names may be off, as I am reading this book in the original French, so I have no idea how the character names may be printed in the English language version.

The Abyssinian
AuthorJean-Christophe Rufin
Original titleL'Abyssin
TranslatorWillard Wood
GenreHistorical novel
Publication date
1997 (France); 1999 (US)
Media typePrint ( )
Followed byThe Siege of Isfahan 

The Abyssinian is an historical novel by Jean-Christophe Rufin.

Plot introduction

The Abyssinian tells the story of a young French physician who is sent as part of a diplomatic mission to Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia). Along the way he must face various perils while trying to win over his true love.

Explanation of the novel's title

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Abyssinia is an ancient term for the country of Ethiopia, and it is derived from an Arabic term for the people who inhabit this general region of Africa. The Wikipedia link of Abyssinia redirects to the main article on Ethiopia.

Plot summary

{{spoiler}} Book I

In 18th century Egypt, the French consul in Cairo, Monsieur de Maillet, receives orders to send a diplomatic mission to Abyssinia. These orders have an ulterior motive of proselytizing the Roman Catholic faith--an activity that is expressly forbidden in that country. This is complicated by the rivalry of two Catholic religious orders--the Jesuits and the Capuchins in their efforts to gain influence within the Church.

Monsieur de Maillet learns that the ruler of Abyssinia, known as the Negus, suffers from the same skin disease as an Arab merchant in town, Hadji Ali. This gives the French consul the idea that he can send this mission under the guise of treating the Negus and extending the goodwill of the French king, Louis XIV.

The consul reluctantly agrees to send Jean-Baptiste Poncet, a French apothecarian who has been living in exile in Egypt, to lead this mission. Poncet will only do this on the condition that he receive generous reimbursement, and that the consul's daughter Alix--with whom he is smitten--take care of his collection of rare and delicate plants during his absence.

Characters in "The Abyssinian"

  • Jean-Baptiste Poncet a French apothecarian who has had to flee France because he has been practicing medicine without a formal license.
  • Maître Juremi a colleague of Poncet who has fled France because of his Protestant religious beliefs
  • Monsieur de Maillet the French consul in Cairo, a petty man who has gained this position through nepotism
  • Monsieur de Macé an expert linguist who works for Monsieur de Maillet
  • Alix de Maillet the beautiful daughter of Monsieur de Maillet and the love interest of Poncet

Major themes

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Allusions/references to other works

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Literary significance & criticism

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Allusions/references from other works

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Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science

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  • King Louis XIV of France did in fact send a diplomatic mission to Abyssinia.
  • The protagonist Jean-Baptiste Poncet may be inspired by the actual C.J. Poncet, who went to Abyssinia in 1698 via the Sennar and the Blue Nile.
  • Pontchartrain, the man to whom Monsieur de Maillet owes his position, was an influential administrator in service to King Louis XIV of France.

Awards and nominations

  • 1997 Prix Goncourt for first novel
  • 1997 Prix Méditerranée

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Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

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Release details

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Category:1997 books Category:Historical novels Category:Debut novels