Random musings of a wandering soul

‘Abandon’ by Pico Iyer


“An Englishman in California studying Sufism, and in particular Rumi”, so says the back cover on who the protagonist is. Having discovered Rumi rather late in life and getting drunk on him ever since, the pull was too strong to resist and back it came with me from the last trip to the library.

The story starts with John Macmillan in Damascus meeting up with an enigmatic old professor, Khalil and ending up carrying a gift back for his friend. Originally from London, he seems to be running away from his life and love and moving towards something that neither he nor the reader can make sense of, at least in the beginning. His trip to dleiver Khalil’s gift brings Camilla Jensen to his life, who gets intricately entangled with him. The story goes in and out of their unusual meetings with each other. In between are the encounters with his professor and mentor, Sefadhi, who seem to have an alternate life.

Interspersed (or was it supposed to be the main plot?) is the rumor about an original manuscript of Sufi poems which seem to mysteriously surface here and there. Yes, it even brings John to India. All the characters seem to have some mystery or other that shrouds their past, each one of them trying to uncover or hide from it.

The narrative is mystical, in line with the the theme of the story. There are some good insights by the author on religion, mysticism, Sufism and of course Rumi, Shams and Hafez. To cut a long story short, I had to conclude that I am neither intellectual nor mystical enough yet to really enjoy such an esoteric theme and author 🙂

One interesting anecdote that I loved is, “Rumi has replaced the Dalai Lama in greeting cards”. To a certain extent, the author is able to convey the pain of a race as they helplessly watch their soul getting so blatanly commercialized. Keeping the story apart, there are some brilliant allusions to the genre of poems that we have come to equate to Sufism. The biggest revelation for me was that “The cry of the Sufi is, quite simply, the cry of abandoned love”, and not a celebration of love that is.

The best of piece of advice came from Professor Sefadhi,

“My only words of advice: remember, please, to keep the poets higher than your thoughts of them. Don’t pull them down to your level; let them draw you up to theirs…It is best to make sure always there is something in them you don’t understand.”

Looks like, sadly I have to go a long way to reach that level.

Verdict : Not te be read with abandon. Take it up if you love mysterious characters in all shades of grey and of course Sufis, their lives and poems.

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Comments on: "‘Abandon’ by Pico Iyer" (11)

  1. If you arent ” intellectual nor mystical enough yet to really enjoy such an esoteric theme and author ” then I betta steer away from this book 🙂

  2. Nice review. Read it a few years ago. I was also hooked by the Rumi connection. Ater reading the review thinking of reading it again 🙂

  3. Not for me then .. I dont have that much high level of intellectuism (is this a word ) see i told you

  4. Missed a lot of your posts.
    I find such themes interesting though I am not sure if I could make it until the last page. 😉

  5. Loved your review. The book sounds so interesting! Pity you didn’t like it as much as you had expected to. 😦

    I think I am not intellectual and mystical enough to understand and enjoy certain esoteric books too. So, I steer clear of them as of now. 🙂

    BTW I recently read The Forty Rules of Love and discovered Rumi. Would love to know – how are you exploring Rumi? Have you read his poems? I would love to read some! Please do let me know.

    Also, ‘The cry of the Sufi is, quite simply, the cry of abandoned love”, and not a celebration of love that is.’ Really? Like you, I always thought that the cry of the Sufi was a celebration of love!

    I loved the last quote in your post about poets. So true!

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