- Finalist, Melbourne Prize for Literature 2006

- Best SF novel of the year 2006, Locus Magazine


"On the twenty-seventh day of the month of June, in the year of grace 1731, my brother, Bartolomeu Lourenco, rose on his airship from the ancient ramparts of St. Jorge Castle. I remember the day as clearly as it were yesterday..."
"This enchanting fable seems in its compass to consider everything worth considering: enlightenment and religious authority, research and totalitarianism, gravity and ideas, adventure, love and fun, and all with a zest and pace missing from so much other fiction writing."
- Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List

"Azhar Abidi is not an author who has his feet on the ground. And that's a compliment."
- Alexander McCall Smith, The New York Times Book Review

"Azhar Abidi's command of the novel form - its design and execution - is such that one imagines he could make magic of any arrangement of character, setting and plot. His prose is so exquisitely apt in terms of diction, weight and color that the reader is often carried away by sound at the expense of meaning. But Abidi is loath to have the reader take him too seriously; hence the fantastic nature of the tale, and the farcical tenor of the title Passarola Rising, which targets man's awkward efforts to achieve the sublime."
- Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Remarkable for its delicacy of its narration. What is truth, asks the novel, and where is it to be found - bringing to mind not only the great adventure storytellers, Verne and Stevenson, but also their more contemporary brothers, Eco and Calvino. Yet Abidi's style is assured and original as it negotiates the shifting landscape of history, ideas and imagination in which its story is set."
- Indian Express (New Delhi) 

"Passarola Rising's narrative is short and punchy and immensely likeable. Abidi writes extremely well, in a clear and direct style that is capable of conveying a beautifully stated sense of lyricism, but that comes alive in the novel's numerous action sequences. Passarola Rising is a strong debut that reveals Abidi to be a novelist of great intelligence and inventiveness."
- The Age (Melbourne)

"[An astonishingly imaginative romp through the skies and through history... Supremely intelligent and accomplished, Pakistan-born Abidi's Passarola Rising is proof that a vigorous imagination can surmount the boundaries of time, space and ethnicity."
- Time Out (Mumbai)

"A marvellous fictional journey." 
- Publishers Weekly

"A thoroughly enjoyable, enchanting story, both beautifully written and uplifting."
- Library Journal

"A spirited story, engagingly told: a journey well worth taking."
- Kirkus Reviews

"Azhar Abidi's debut novel... is a philosophical romance, a distant cousin of Voltaire's and Calvino's work with a whimsical nod to St. Exupery... it is an immensely enjoyable read."
- Craig L. Gidney, The Mumpsimus

"This brilliant novel is written for those of us who want to see new worlds... it is a thrilling meditation on the meaning of exile, exploration and travel."


Madness... I no longer even know what this word means. I long ago stopped asking such questions, for at my age I have no beliefs. I have seen too many things to have any faith. My time is past. I don't even know who I am and what I have lived for. I have been a father, a husband, a good citizen - yes; but is that all there is to life? I confess that with my family around me, my desire to travel wore away. My ambition was satisfied by my business affairs and by and by, I lost the restlessness of my youth. I was respected and with that, I became content. But when I look back upon my life, I feel like an actor after the curtain has fallen, the applause has died away and everyone has walked off the stage. I feel a deep emptiness inside. I chose a life of comfort but part of me always longed for adventure. I remember my childhood and youth as clearly as the light of day but the last week, the last year, the last decade - they have all vanished in a blur. I cannot help but think how it all might have turned out had I never come home. I feel that my hankering for respectability, for settling down like mud, was in fact nothing but cowardice that kept me from living a full life. I feel that when I stifled the restlessness of my youth I also let a part of myself die. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

How did the Passarola fly?

Passarola was a flying machine, designed like a seagoing ship with two masts and three sails. It was fifty-nine feet long from stem to stern and fifteen feet wide. The forecastle was twelve feet long and nine feet wide. Two leeboards extended on either side of the hull. A ladder from the deck led into a small room used as the armory and wardrobe. A narrow passage amidships opened into a tiny galley at the rear of the ship. Also inside the hull, there were two small cabins in the forecastle, measuring approximately eight feet by six feet. At the bottom was a hold for stores and provisions. 

The only difference between an ordinary ship and this craft was that the deck was suspended underneath four large copper spheres. These were vacuum spheres that weighed less than similar spheres filled with air. They rose in air because the vacuum inside them had no density compared to the air outside. Each sphere was seven feet in diameter, with a thin copper shell less than one-tenth of an inch thick. Four such spheres displaced enough air to take account of the ship's weight and a small payload. They resisted atmospheric pressure in the same way that an air bubble resists the pressure of water around it. 

The craft, designed and built by Bartolomeu Lourenco, was based on principles developed by Francesco Lana-Terzi, a Jesuit professor of physics and mathematics, in his work Prodrome dell'Arte Maestra (1670).