Is the Merman Book of Power another Arabian Nights?
Book Review by Namrata
Name: The Merman and the Book of Power- A Qissa
Author: Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Publisher: Aleph Book Company, 2019
The Merman and the Book of Power is the retelling of a qissa, a classic storytelling form in Urdu. This epic novel combines myth with history to give us a glimpse of the evolution of civilisation.
Author Musharraf Ali Farooqi works have been critically acclaimed and have been a finalist for both, Man Asia Literary Prize 2012 and DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2008 apart from being longlisted for IMPAC/Dublin Literary Prize. Along with being a writer, he is also an editor, translator and founder of the Storykit Program.
As Farooqi says in the Author’s Note, “This book merges the parallel histories, myths and multiple personas for Apollonius of Tyana, Hermes Trismegistus and Alexander the Great in the Western and Eastern literary canon, and the various religious, occult and apocalyptic traditions associated with them.”
Deeply reminiscent of classics like Arabian Nights, this book narrates a story within a story with equal élan. By the time you are done with the narration, there is another magical adventure that nudges you on to read. The book begins with a list of characters, further bifurcated into rulers and philosophers and functionaries with their birth and death years along with a brief bio to give the reader an idea of what is in store.
As if the mesmerising cover with its unique title is not enough, this list of characters is further intriguing for a reader. Traversing through the length and breadth of Western Asia, this story takes us through the different cultural practises and traditions, at the same time attempting to break some of the stereotypes. In today’s times when technology has taken the centre-seat, it must be not forgotten that in the olden days emphasis was more on knowledge. Entire empires were created and destroyed only based on the knowledge and exchange of it. The retelling of this qissa, is in a way, an ode to the age-old practice of knowledge sharing.
At the centre of it all, we have the historical figure of Qazwini (1203-1283 CE) who was a polymath, jurist and cosmographer. His voice, many a times, seems like an extension of Farooqi’s. While Qazwini is working on the Book of Power, Farooqi is writing this qissa and their discoveries are also interestingly distinct yet similar in nature. Their findings have been highlighted in the book with special borders inspired by the geometrical designs, setting them apart from the rest of the text. The findings are translated with their rich contexts intact, ensuring their message is conveyed clearly.
The story evolves from the point where the discovery of a merman leads to utter chaos. As the merman is presented to Governor Juvayni, all eyes are on him to know his reaction. Juvayni was feared as Hulagu Khan’s foremost official and the same time, revered. Left with no choice, he asked Qazwini to study this creature and share his thoughts. The rest of the novel is about his discoveries and findings while studying the merman. His study takes us through the vast political history that lies unheard of in the realms of these deserts and mountains.
Taking us through various school of thoughts including that on paganism, religion, occult sciences and censorship, Farooqi weaves a narrative that is enthralling and evocative. The language is cogent and leaves one pondering. His writing is mysterious in ways that manage to tease the reader enough to crave for more details which he serves later, graciously. With his writing prowess, Farooqi manages to recreate the rich cultural heritage of West Asia exceptionally well. Through richly textured descriptions, he delivers a stimulating read.
All the battles in the world till date have been about power and this book has the ‘Book of Power’ at the centre of it all. What does Qazwini do with that book towards the end is perhaps symbolical in many ways and also holds answers to a lot of mysteries in life. With an enthusing story at the core of it, this qissa attempts to demystify life and its mysteries, enlivening the experience of reading it completely.
Namrata is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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