Review of A Poet of the Invisible World

What was it about?

Nouri Ahmad Mohammad ibn Mahsoud al-Morad is a boy in 13th century Persia studying to be a Sufi mystic. But he has four ears, is attracted to men, and writes breath-takingly beautiful poetry, so naturally he is admired and loved by some and seen as a threat and exploited by others. Nouri never finds permanence, traveling from one community to another in search of peace and acceptance. A Poet of the Invisible World by Michael Golding is a spiritual novel in the tradition of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

What did I think of it?

I usually don’t read books with romance. I can’t even read Jane Austen’s works. But A Poet of the Invisible World promised to offer something more. While Nouri is trying to understand his sexuality, he is also studying to be a Sufi mystic. The book is compared by critics to Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (my review here) which I loved, so I had high expectations when I went into the book.

Overall, I thought that it was a beautifully written work, but I expected more depth. I expected more of an engagement with the major metaphysical questions in Sufism especially since the story took place in the thirteenth century. It was a work that strained for profundity but never quite made it. There was a bit of a discussion concerning the meaning of life and the problem of evil but the dervishs’ comments were quite trite. I admit to having very high standards when it comes to spiritual fiction because I have read more works of this genre than the average reader, but even a generous critic can’t excuse a platitudinous line such as this one:

The truth is that our souls hang in the balance until our final moment. We fluctuate between grace and sin and only Allah can say what will happen when the bowl finally shatters.

This is, frankly, as profound as this book gets. Still, A Poet of the Invisible World avoids sounding New Age-y. Golding has clearly done his research (he presents Islam much better than Hesse presents Buddhism).

In truth, A Poet of the Invisible World is less a work about the spiritual awakening of a boy and more an LGBT identity novel with an Islamic backdrop. The writing is beautiful and Nouri is a sympathetic character, but Golding is heavy-handed with the moral, and the moral is extremely predictable. Apart from Nouri’s romantic affairs not much else is memorable. I didn’t dislike A Poet of the Invisible World. The story grabbed my attention, and the sex scenes weren’t gratuitous or poorly written, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. It wasn’t Siddhartha.

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