The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis
Author: Peter Sís
Genre: Fiction (Poetry / Illustrated / Sufi / Meditation /
Publisher/Publication Date: The Penguin Press (10/27/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: Yes, very quickly.
One-sentence summary: A gorgeously illustrated meditation on self, spirituality, and knowledge.
Do I like the cover?: I do, although it is very restrained compared to the gorgeous art inside.
I'm reminded of...: Thich Nhat Hanh,
First line: When the poet Attar woke up one morning after an uneasy dream, he realized that he was a hoopoe bird...
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy because you're not going to want to give this one back!
Why did I get this book?: Luscious illustrations, poetry, and ruminations on spirituality -- sign me up!
Review: Like everyone else who has touched this book, the first thing I'm going to gush about is just how ridiculously gorgeous it is. It's a treat to hold, a very visceral reminder to any reader of the magic contained in books. Sís' first book for adults brought out in me that feel of anticipation upon opening a book, breathless at the wonders contained, hopeful and excited. I was acutely aware of reading a book because I literally stroked the pages (the paper is textured); I poured over every image, captivated by Sís' art. (In fact, I read this in bed with my wife, and we both oooh-ed and aahhh-ed until breathless.)
When I recovered from the pretty, I went back to reread, which was hardly a difficulty since the book is so flippin' attractive. The poem itself is lovely, a clean and modern rendition of a Persian poem by the same name. The original was written by Sufi poet and mystic Farīd al-Dīn ʻAṭṭār, meant to convey the tenets of Sufism (as he saw them). Reading Sís' version -- clearly not meant to be overtly religious, even if it is meditative -- is a little emotionless, as I found myself not entirely connecting with the purpose of the birds' journey. The bird-king Simorgh is a figure that would be familiar to Persian readers, a mythical creature that resembles a gryphon; in the Sufi tradition, Simorgh is used as a metaphor for God. In searching for Simorgh, the birds are searching for God. Through trials and tribulations, they learn what-who-where God is (or in this case, who the king is.) This is a very non-denominational book that would be good for children and adults of any spiritual stripe, and I think the book provides a unique opportunity to meditate on one's personal relationship with a higher power or greater being. The story is less about the birds and more about the journey.
And what a beautiful journey. Splurge on yourself or someone you know, if only to glance your fingers over the paper and grow excited with each turn of the page. Delight in a book, really wallow in it -- this is worth diving in to!