This fictionalized biography of 13-century Persian poet Djalal al-din Mohammad Balkhi, known as Rumi, lingers over the creative relationships that gave rise to his mystical writings and leaves the mystery that surrounds them in place. Rumi's student, scribe and early biographer Hesam, who narrates, begins his tale with the most infamous of these relationships: the friendship between the serene Rumi and Mohammed Malekdad, aka Shams of Tabriz. The first meeting of Rumi and Shams is explosive: the two immediately retire to a locked room for 40 days. Upon emerging, Rumi rejects bookish religion and initiates the sama, the spiritual dance that lends his sect their nickname of "whirling dervishes." More conventional Muslims are appalled: they drive Shams away from Konya, but the pining Rumi eventually tracks Shams down in Damascus and has him brought back. The anti-Shams faction conspires to murder him-or does he simply, miraculously, disappear? Rumi later transfers his spiritual affections to Hesam, and together they create Rumi's poetic magnum opus, the Masnavi-yi Ma'navi. An émigré from Tehran to Paris, Tajadod includes a plethora of parables, miracles, cryptic sayings and mystic poetry throughout. She sensitively illustrates Rumi's spiritualism and circles carefully around the male relationships at the core of Rumi's life.
Setting her story in Konya, Anatolia (now Turkey), Tajadod, an émigré from Iran to France, describes three influential relationships in the life of Rumi, the 13th-century Turkish mystic. These relationships helped to transform Rumi from a serious scholar of the Koran into the internationally known poet of love and creator of the sama, the dance of the whirling dervishes. Rumi's lovers, as Nahal depicts them, were Shams-i Tabrizi, a dervish who first led Rumi away from conventional religious conventions; Salah, the uneducated goldsmith who was the antithesis of Shams; and the novel's narrator, Hesam, who left a life of privilege to become one of Rumi's followers. It is through Hesam that Tajadod seeks to understand and communicate the motivations for Rumi's transformation. Occasionally, the novel reads like a memoir, with Hesam adding details he has gathered from other sources to complete the picture. While the novel succeeds in recounting the particulars of Rumi's life, it fails to breathe life into the tale of Rumi. The writing is flat and artificial, even though wonderful samples of Rumi's couplets are liberally dispersed throughout. Recommended only for large fiction collections.
Faye A. Chadwell
Tajadod's first novel to be translated into English divides the legendary 13th-century Persian poet's life into three periods, each governed by his relationship with a particular male beloved. Hesam, a young student of Rumi, serves as scribe and narrator. Through him we become acquainted with Shams of Tabriz, Rumi's first and most famous lover. Immediately after these two meet, they sequester themselves in a cell for 40 days and nights. Hesam, forced to wait outside the cell, remarks on the frustrated longings of Kera, Rumi's young wife, as well as the growing resentment of Rumi's son Ala, who eventually conspires to bring about Shams' death. Through a crack in the door, we observe Rumi learning the dance of the whirling dervish. This scene generates a lot of energy and power, but when the dance comes to an end the novel loses its momentum and never regains it. Hesam's reverential attitude toward Rumi, Shams and Shams' successor Salah keeps these characters at a distance. When Hesam himself becomes Rumi's third and final consort, we hope to at last penetrate the mystery of the Master, but the narrative remains as cryptic as ever. A promising beginning, but in the end an elusive story that fails to convey the magic of a teacher and scholar whose passion produced some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.