When I picked up this beautiful gold and blue book, it felt right. Do you get that feeling sometimes, about books? You hold it in your hands and know it’s a good one? Michael Golding’s A Poet of the Invisible World needed no plot synopsis or gimmicks to get me to read it. Something of its essence reached out and grabbed me.
The book takes place in thirteenth-century Persia and follows the life of a man named Nouri, beginning with his birth and ending with his passing. He is born with four ears, and though his mother loves him as if nothing is strange about his appearance, the community surrounding him is fearful towards the meaning of his ears. She decides to take him to another village and keeps his ears secret.
During their journey, a twist of fate and a sad accident land Nouri in the arms of Habbib, a man with a crippled hand who sweeps a Sufi lodge. At first, Habbib is able to take care of the infant in secret, but he is eventually discovered by the dervishes.He begins his spiritual journey under the warm instruction of Sheikh Bailiri, who thinks his ears must be created to hear the Word of God. He becomes a favorite in the lodge, especially once his gift for poetry is realized. But one monk, Sharoud, thinks his ears must be sacrilege and becomes his greatest adversary throughout the novel.
The times are tumultuous. A raid on the lodge tears Nouri’s world apart, and he ends up as a poet in the court of a Sultan. From there, fate leads him many other places: Africa, Andalusia, Mecca. There are many highs and lows in his life. He experiences great love as well as great loss. At his lowest point, he even succumbs to addiction. Throughout his many experiences, he tries to find a way to lift the veil between him and God. At the crux of this novel, I found myself reading late into the night to see what became of the gentle Nouri whose life held so many twists and turns.
There are many aspects of this story that I loved. Nouri is written as a gifted poet whose verse is beautiful beyond imagining. Golding wisely does not write his poetry for us, only describes it. This choice in technique lends to the willing suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part. I feel it would have been damaging to attempt Nouri’s poetry or at least in danger of discrediting the described talent.
I also liked that this book approached homosexuality in a spiritual person. Nouri has a gorgeous relationship with a man whose heart is reversed and skin tinted blue as a result. Sharoud resents Nouri all the more for this and tries to use it against him. Even when Sharoud goes to the dying Sheikh to reveal this love affair, which he believes is beyond forgiveness. The Sheikh only counsels him to cleanse his eyes, refusing to bear any hatred towards Nouri.
Though many of the characters speculated on the meaning of Nouri’s four ears, this trait has no divine impact on his character. Sure, he hears far better than anyone and sometimes painfully so. But the ears are never given extraordinary power or meaning beyond sharp hearing. They are just ears. The most remarkable part of the story regarding his ears is the brief time he spends without being able to hear and is plunged into a period of complete silence.
I loved this spiritual journey because it was not about a perfect being. It was about a man who suffered and struggled on his path to God. Golding’s beautiful prose carried me through as if on a breeze, and I thought about this story long after finishing the last page.