Review of “A Poet of the Invisible World” by: Michael Golding

Indiebound/Barnes &Nobles/ Picador/Books-A-Million/Amazon/Kobo

Synopsis, Taken From Indiebound:

In the tradition of “SIDDHARTHA” by Hermann Hesse comes a new spiritual novel that is a stunning feat of storytelling and imagination. “A Poet of the Invisible World” follows a boy named Nouri, born in thirteenth-century Persia, with four ears instead of two. Orphaned as an infant, he’s taken into a Sufi order, where he meets an assortment of dervishes and is placed upon a path toward spiritual awakening. As he stumbles from one painful experience to the next, he grows into manhood. Each trial he endures shatters another obstacle within–and leads Nouri on toward transcendence.

Sometimes, I find books that are really well-matched to what I truly like to read, and it books more in the vein of Ronlyn Domingue’s “Mapmaker Chronicle” series that are rich spiritual catharsis, where the very act of writing a story becomes a way for the artist/writer to really articulate their profound existential, philosophical, or spiritual questions all within the rule-less realm of fiction writing. One other strength that I felt that Michael Golding’s The Poet of the Invisible World contained was the emphasis on the fact that pacifistic protagonists can be every bit as interesting and meaningful, as those that are only engaged in conflicts that require violence as a solution. Now please do not misconstrue that to mean, I will not read nor enjoy books with characters in those types of rules. I am a very wide reader, meaning I read everything from horror, to thrillers, to this type of more meditative, introspective read. I even write stories that are revolved around characters, whose tasks are heavily involved with violence as a means of rectifying that conflict they’re involved with for the course of the story.

My interest with books, dealing with characters that are more pacifistic leaning, has more to do with my own personal core beliefs, as a pacifist myself. I have always felt estranged, or detached, from the world due to an innate sense that violence seemed inherently supercilious. I just never could fathom why it works so cyclically in the world, why there are continuous wars, in a history of humanity that is replete with incidences of gross violence and barbarity. Perhaps, that is why I also love stories dealing with the psychology of violence, even as a pacifist, because it is a conundrum that I am so greatly intrigued by, and it is one reason Death Seer-the novel I’ve been working on for six years and counting, has such a dichotomous split between the character greatly voracious with using violence to sate some deep,intrinsic thirst, and the character that needs to render peace and justice, to perhaps find a deeper sense of contentment, or security within the world.

How does any of this relate directly with The Poet of the Invisible World? Well the very story is premised on a character, born already with a physical aberrant trait that discloses to the world that they are markedly different (in the form of four ears), and therefore, they are ostracized based on that. But beyond that, they are more disposed to feeling a strong sense for the need for non-violent tactics, as a means to foster peace and justice in the world.  As Anne Rice explores with so much depth in her Vampire Chronicle novels, or even the great Octavia Butler in her cerebral Xenogenesis Trilogy, does the quality of “otherness” and “alienation” for certain aberrant types of characters, thus make them more disposed to perhaps having thought patterns, or psychological constructs, that are typified more as things that are unconventional and different. Are these the individuals that may, within a densely religious world, as is this character within the Islamic Middle East, going to gravitate more towards the emotional,introspective, and ascetic lifestyle of the mystic branches of religion? In the case of this novel, the main protagnostic Nouri is raised within a Sufi convent, and thus is raised with a more introspective form of religion because the very labeling of someone as an “outsider” will make have a richer interior thought life because the world without has alienated them, as such they become almost cloistered in their mind, making their introspective thought process far richer.

And this novel mainly deals fairly well with the conflicts that arise within the life of the spiritual wanderer, for which Nouri, the main character happens to be, who explores different lifestyles and manifestations of spirituality, throughout his life, in the vein of the iconic character of Siddhartha. The novel has elements of Yukio Mishima’s infamous novel Confessions of a Mask, dealing with other paradoxical aspects of the character who always feels separated from the conventional scheme of the world. Nouri’s conflicted angst over their internal warfare  within himself, and the paradoxical, complex nature of the world, is really what makes this novel so rich, and really suffuses it with its poetic verve that readers of more introspective works will greatly appreciate. As opposed to the Yukio Mishima’s more self-abnegating,insular type of character in the rather morose, though insightful Confessions of the Mask, who allows his torpid agitations of his supposed counter-cultural sexual identity to completely define his entire character journey, rather than reconcile it with many other facets of himself. He is anchored down by the tyranny of other people’s ideas, much like many within institutional religion become distracted from the mystical and more enamored/perhaps fatalistically obsessed with the bureaucratic, messy politics of religion. Nouri actually, deep-down, is able to reconcile his Sufi lifestyle with that of his own sexual identity;  more importantly, his Sufi identity allows him to have a more richer, less inflexible type of spiritual identity that lets him make peace very fast with his spiritual identity, as well as his feelings of being part of a large, supportive family of Sufi dervishes.

Infamous English writer Doris Lessings says it eloquently about the neuroses prevalent within instutionalized, dogmatic forms of religion, as opposed to more ‘mystic’ persuasions that are introspective, and accepting of paradox/nuance in the world, and within ourselves:

“Many people who turned their backs on religion are now interested in getting towards “what really is in Christianity.” It is not Christianity (or any other religion) which is responsible for indoctrinating people to believe in a narrow system which traps them. It is, rather, that large areas of all religions are captured, as a matter of history, by cultists who oversimplify and then use the result to trap people with. So it is a certain type of mind which is responsible. Dogmas and liturgy, and so on, are not found in the initial stages of a religion in such oversimplified forms. The successors or adopters of the original workers in the field are the ones who distort the religion into a socio-psychological straitjacket. Then, after that, reformers try to adjust things, and in turn slip into mechanicality. This process can be seen if one looks.” (Doris Lessing)

Doris Lessing has written quite extensively on Sufism, and it basically is an element that is replete in her later science fiction stories, particularly the Shikasta novel. But the element of mysticism being able to easily transcend more baser obsessions of institutionalized religion reveals the core reason why Nouri eventually no longer struggles with the more brash, abstruse form of religion that dictates certain elements of ourselves are strictly defined and regulated, even the manifestation of the mystical and spiritual that are in of themselves ineffable. His journey teaches him very much on the fact that it is overweening hubris that is the downfall of good spirituality, and it is what sullies religion completely. When he is able to make peace with the darkest sad of himself and learns to exhume that aspect of himself that is edifying and predicated on more moral thought patterns, he feels himself more apt to follow his religion in a way that is fulfilling and whole.

My words hardly reflect exactly what intelligent religious/spiritual thinker Karen Armstrong described this as, by quoting Sufi thinker Ibn Arabi.

Ibn al-Arabi gave this advice:
Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed, for he says, ‘Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah’ (Koran 2:109). Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently, he blames the disbelief of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance.” (Karen Armstrong)

In other words, the ardent mystic or artist, whether they be a sufi, a Christian mystic, a Jewish mystic, a Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, are open to the ongoing revelations that happen through life that allow us not to be inflexible, or grounded by the onerous weight of self-loathing, and egotism. As an agnostic myself, I can discern the deeper intent of Ibn al-Arabi’s words to mean just that, in that we must take full advantage of the minds we have, rather than overreach with egotism and wish against what is intrinsic to ourselves.  And the journey of Nouri’s character throughout this novel teaches him this, as well as the importance of friendships with others, the value and really strong power of empathy and compassion, and that the most powerful strength in the world isn’t a manifestation of physical violence, but working in accordance with what is the most edifying, life-fulfilling, loving parts of ourselves. this is a form of “deeper magic” that goes beyond the constraints of institutional religion, and even those within institutional religions can find this within their tradition.

Even while being subtly, and beautifully written, there were some instances where the plot became ponderous, mostly due to sequences that didn’t quite cohere as well with the main purpose behind Nouri’s story arc. Sometimes, things were also too nebulous, especially towards the end where the ending doesn’t satisfactorily resolves the overarching spiritual odyssey of Nouri in a way that is satisfactory. Nonetheless, these flaws hardly detract from the overall raw beauty of the prose, in the way it can be both succinct, to-the-point at times, or poetically long-winded; this inexact way that the prose changes is a unique asset to Golding’s writing that really clearly reflects the doubt and uncertainty that encapsulates the emotional tension of Nouri’s spiritual journey that is the heart and soul of this well-told tale. So if you’re in the mood for something a bit more philosophical, and methodical in nature, give this novel a try because you may greatly appreciate the story’s emphasis on a more introspective, pacifistic character that remains engrossing and intriguing throughout most of the novel.

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