Monday, November 21, 2011

The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis

Title: The Conference of the Birds
Author: Peter Sís

Genre: Fiction (Poetry / Illustrated / Sufi / Meditation /
Publisher/Publication Date: The Penguin Press (10/27/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
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!


  1. The book is indeed one of the most gorgeous I have ever owned! I really wished the individual characters of the birds had been better developed, so I could have invested more in their story. But I agree with you that the overall meditative value of the book was outstanding.

  2. I hadn't ever heard of this book before, but the tactile impressions that you gave of it make me feel like I need to hold it RIGHT NOW! It sounds like it also contains an interesting story. This was a wonderfully enthusiastic review, and I really enjoyed reading and relishing it!

  3. I've read a couple of reviews for this one and no one even mentioned how gorgeous it is. How could that be?

  4. I got to page through Serena's copy and the illustrations are gorgeous!

  5. @Col: Agreed -- I've read the original a million years ago, and I do recall then that the individual birds are also glossed over after they do their initial thing, so in that sense, Sis has captured the feel -- but with the opportunity to do something unique like this, drawing the reader in with the art and a more precise story would have been fabu.

    @Heather: OMG, go to a bookstore to check this out because it is obscenely gorgeous. As an adult reader without kids in my life, I forget how much I savor and enjoy really visual storytelling -- I rarely pour over an illustrated story -- this was a lovely treat.

    @Ti: That shocks me -- because I can't stop enthusing about the pretty (the GoodReads reviews all seem to gush first abt the pretty, too). Seriously, I almost can't get past the pretty to review the rest!

    @Anna: It's crazy how pretty and inventive it is; and, as I said to Heather, for me this was a unique treat as I rarely read illustrated books these days (being without kids in my life) -- so the chance to pour over pictures was a fun diversion.

  6. I loved this book. I have yet to actually look at the original Sufi poem, which I fear has many more words. :) I really loved how illustrative it was and that those illustrations did make me think and research and the best part was "Wiggles" wanted me to read it and she wanted to touch the pages.

  7. I love that you read it in bed with your wife!

    I really like the idea of illustrations to accompany a poem. Seems like a really great way to get your mind working on what the poem means.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  8. Loved this book, I know it will be on that never leaves my shelves.