A Poet of the Invisible World
by Michael Golding
Picador. 323 pages, $16.
THIS INVENTIVE, thoughtful novel tells the story of one man’s spiritual journey, with a mixture of travel, romance, action, and literature. Beginning in Persia, a boy named Nouri is born with four ears, a fact that his mother takes great pains to conceal from the villagers. Despite her love and protection, the baby ends up in a Sufi order, literally falling from the sky into the hands of the caretaker Habbib, who raises him, first with his assistant Ali Majid’s help and later with the religious masters. It soon becomes clear that Nouri’s extra ears are a sign of gifts in the child, as he proves a remarkably talented poet. Throughout the novel, however, he is torn between poetry and religion, wishing to become a mystic like the head of the order.
Nouri’s life seems reasonably well-ordered until tragedy strikes and he finds himself separated from his adopted family, in a foreign land serving a sultan. His new master is a poetry lover, however, and puts Nouri’s gifts to good use. Eventually, though, the situation becomes dangerous,