Nsara is Book 9 of the novel The Years Of Rice And Salt.


Budur is a young woman in her father's harem in Turi. She escapes to Nsara to her aunt Idelba. Idelba is a scientist that is discovering radioactivity and nuclear reactions. Idelba attempts to assemble an international scientific community that will be able to handle these new discoveries and not bring the world to a catastrophic war. Budur meets Kirana, a history teacher and also an activist for women's rights in Islam. Budur experiences the rich social life of Nsara, a city at the center of social, cultural and scientific discoveries. Social protests weaken the Islamic rule and a coup threatens to break into an insurrection spanning continents. Thankfully, a Hodenosaunee fleet comes to establish international law and defuse the tensions.

World history



  • B : Budur Radwan, young woman, archaeology student
  • K : Kirana Fawwaz, Algerine woman activist, history teacher
  • I : Idelba, nuclear scientist, Budur's aunt
  • S : Madame Sururi, Zott seer

Thesaurus & Encyclopaedia

Based on the Trivia and Study Guide compiled by Mark Rosa in 2004. Page numbers from the US paperback edition.

586 Turi : Torino; often called Turin in English, a city in northern Italy. Perhaps Zurich, a city in Switzerland, which is called "Züri" in Swiss German.

588 heartknot, yang, yin : The nucleus of an atom. Protons and electrons really are called yang and yin particles in Chinese and Japanese.

588 "strong, but very local" : This is the strong nuclear force, which is overwhelmed by the force of gravity and electromagnetic forces at human scales.

588 alactin : Uranium, the 92nd element. Bombarding U-235 with neutrons causes it to become U-236 (the additional unit of atomic mass is the neutron), which releases energy plus more neutrons, which can interact with other U-235 atoms. This chain reaction is explosive!

592 djellaba : This should more accurately be "djebella"; it's spelled correctly several times later on.

593 the speed of light, half a million li per second : In metric, the speed of light is 300,000 km/sec. A li would be about 600 meters. The book misquotes the equation for energy-mass equivalence here. "[M]ultiply [the mass] by the speed of light and square the result", which would give E = (mc)2 not E = mc2.

598 zawwiyya ("boardinghouse for women", "antiharem") : (or zawiyya) Islamic shrine, though the cults performed there can pre-date Islam. The great majority of occupants are women and zawiyya cults have often been presented as a female parallel to the masculine Sufism.

605 frequently falsified authorities of personal transmission : Note that Bistami fudged these things for just the opposite reason almost 500 years earlier.

606 "as a kasbah or a medina" : A kasbah is an Islamic city in Northen African countries. The medina is the fortified historic center of the city, as opposed to the more modern, westernized quarters.

607 Haroun al-Rashid : Abbasid Caliph of the 8th century AD.

607 a white tomb in the jungle : Here Budur sees her past lives as Butterfly and Bistami.

612 standing stones : Could be the Carnac megaliths in Brittany, northern France; 10,000 stones which are more than 4000 years old. Like Stonehenge, we're not sure what their purpose is, though it's likely that they were used to measure star positions. A legend says that Roman soldiers were turned to stone to form these megaliths.

613 the Orkneys : Islands at the northern end of Great Britain.

614 caves in the south, filled with wall paintings : These would be the Lascaux caves, where paintings thirty to forty thousand years old have been discovered.

623 circular mandala : It's hard to imagine the periodic table of the elements arranged in a circle. Perhaps it's a spiral with each group arranged on the same spoke.

626 lifegas : Oxygen.

631 Aozhou : 澳洲 Australia. Usually written 澳大利亞 today, a more phonetic representation. This may be an anachronism, since the Chinese "ao" character is based on the first syllable "au" in Latin, which may not be given to the continent in this world.

631 Kwinana : A town in Western Australia in our world, with a population of around 20,000.

634 Dinei : Usually spelled "Dene"; Native Canadians from the Great Slave Lake area and the Northwest Territories.

640 "Hell is other people" : In our world, this line comes from Jean-Paul Sartre.

644 five-trillion-drachma bills from Roma : An example of inflation. For example, after Germany lost WWI in our world, heavy reparations payments forced the government to devalue the currency in 1923, and the resulting hyperinflation had people spending banknotes worth billions of marks and carrying wheelbarrows full of bills just to buy household items.

645 "Come fill the cup..." : From the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (AD 1048-1123; Nishapur, Persia), quatrain 7; English translation by Edward FitzGerald.

649 "Kirana's mouth opened round as a zero..." : This would be somewhat of a challenge given that an Arabic zero is a dot. It might be more accurate to say that her mouth opened round as a five, since in Arabic, five is an oval.

659 Hosain's martyrdom : The grandson of Mohammed, who was murdered. See Bistami's tale for more details.

667 Moroccan lost fleet of 924 : ?

675 lifering fourteens : Atoms of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope which decays regularly, allowing an observer to measure the age of an object by finding the ratio of C-14 to the normal C-12. The inclusion of "ring" in the name presumably refers to its atomic structure.

677 Ganono : New York in our world. Ganono is the Mohawk name for the Manhattan area, and means "reeds". It was eventually supplanted by the Delaware word "Manhattos", which means "hills".

679 Cyrus : (580-529 BC) Became king of Anshan in 559 BC (thus the comment by the Cyruses that this year is his 2561st), and later conquered many parts of Persia. He was a benevolent conqueror who didn't force religion on people, and is said to have written the first declaration of human rights. Incidentally, the year is given in the North American version (corrected in the British paperback) as AH 1381, but though 1381 solar years have passed since Mohammed's Hegira, that calendar uses lunar years, and the spring of AD 2002 should be AH 1423 (as given in the Chronology in the beginning of the book). A system of counting solar years since the Hegira has been used in Iran, but KSR seems to have all his characters, Iranian or not, using it.

679 Ferdowsi : ...is the correct spelling (not 'Ferdowsi') of this Persian literary giant. (935-1020) His Shahnamah, or Book of Kings, is one of Iran's greatest literary works (if not the greatest) and has had a lasting impact on the Persian language It can be found online here.

683 the years around 777 : If KSR's Iranian reckoning from page 679 is continued here, this would be around AD 1399.

686 "Caves in the Nsaran south" : These are the Lascaux caves mentioned earlier.

688 "An Inka capital, set high in the mountains... skeletons of people in Firanja... stone rings of Britain" : Macchu Picchu, the Neanderthals, and Stonehenge, respectively. The lined figures on the Inkan plains mentioned later are the famous Nazca lines.

688 Ta Shu : A Chinese poet who visits Antarctica in KSR's novel of the same name. I don't know what characters you might write this name with.

695 Kenpo, Iwang, Sidpa, Zasep, Dagyab, Tenga, Baram, Puntsok : Reference to the Tibetan village jati, see also Book I, note p.85.


  • (p.594: Budur's experience of the mystic)
  • (p.688: a series of arachaeological findings, with theories and facts now outdated or cryptoscience)