Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds
Peter Sis
160 pages
The Penguin Press
a copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

The Conference of the Birds, author and illustrator Peter Sis's first book for adults, is an adaptation of a classic twelfth-century Sufi poem. In Sis's lavishly illustrated version, a four thousand five hundred line poem is crystallized to a visual poem with a few spare poetic lines interspersed across pages of intricate images.

The poet Attar wakes from an uneasy dream and finds himself tranformed into a hoopoe bird. The hoopoe bird addresses all the birds of the world, promising to lead them to a King, Simorgh, who lives on the mountain of Kaf. The hoopoe leads the birds across the seven valleys: quest, love, understanding, friendship, unity, amazement, and death. Finally, only thirty birds have survived the journey. As the book closes, the thirty birds fly over a lake and see that they, together, are the king, and the Simorgh the king is each of them.

The images in The Conference of the Birds should be savored. The artwork on these pages is both intricate and subtle, and the story is told through cumulative layers of color, pattern, and symbolism. Images of circles,labyrinths, dharma wheels, and eyes alternate with mountains, hills, and valleys. Some pages are the faded tea color of an old map, while others are soaked with sumptous, heavenly blue.

The Conference of the Birds is a book to be apprehended rather than understood. If you have ever found yourself poring over a beautifully illustrated children's book long after your children are in bed, or if you enjoy allowing understanding enter through your mind's eye, this book will appeal to you. The Conference of the Birds is a sturdy, lovingly designed book obviously meant to be read and handled over and over again.

In this interview at BEA 2011 Peter Sis discusses his inspiration for The Conference of the Birds.
To have a look at the author's illustrations and view his other books, see the author's web site:


bermudaonion said...

That does sound gorgeous, but I wonder if I'm smart enough to understand it.

Rummanah Aasi said...

I have an english translation copy of "The Conference of Birds" on my book shelve. I'm now inspired to pick it up after reading your review. I would love to see how the illustrations ties up to the story. Thank you for bring this book to my attention!

Laura Kozy Lanik said...

I am reviewing this book on Wednesday. I can't wait to read it tomorrow.

Christopher said...

This sounds absolutely delightful! I'm going to put it on my Amazon 'wish-list' right now. Thanks for the tip and for the splendid review! Cheers! Chris

nomadreader said...

I'm so glad you loved this one! I read an earlier book of his, The Wall, a few years ago and adored it. I need to get this one too.

bibliophiliac said...

@bermudaonion-haha! I'm not sure I am either.
@Rummana Aasi-I'd love to hear what you think of both versions...
@booksnob-I look forward to hearing what you think!
@Christopher-thanks Chris!

bibliophiliac said...

@nomadreader-I'd be very interested to read The Wall.

Scriptor Senex said...

Just looked through his website. Love the excerpts from 'The Tree of Life'. A most unusual style and well executed.

Anonymous said...

"a sturdy, lovingly designed book obviously meant to be read and handled over and over again" - I love this! It really says a lot about the author's intent in writing this book.

Thanks for being on the tour!

Serena said...

I haven't read the original translated epic poem, but Peter Sis has created something of lasting beauty.