view from the hill

A look at the elements and events that come into view from where I'm standing...
... the stuff that matters in this life. Some flicker and are gone in a matter of hours
only to live in memory, others become life long travelling companions, never far from reach.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Saddlebag

So, I've completed another map in the desert. I'm more familiar with the territory, I've glimpsed into the lives of fellow travellers, but I still feel lost.

sbagThe Saddlebag by Rahiyyih Nakhjavani, is a small jewel of a book. Set in 19th century Arabia on the pilgrim road between Mecca and Medina, it tells a tale of nine travellers and how a mysterious saddlebag has profound effects on each of their lives. Nakhjavani 's language is achingly beautiful, fable-like and archetypal. In each of the nine chapters we meet the Thief, the Bride, the Chieftain, Moneychanger, Slave, Pilgrim, Priest, Dervish and the Corpse, and with each life that's unfolded, a larger picture begins to emerge. But it's all so mysterious. It's a mirage painted on shifting sands.

The enigmatic saddlebag uproots each of their lives, transforming their perceptions of what they hold to be true. Though they are all seekers, they are sure of their own paths. Set in the land of Islam under the Ottoman Empire, the characters carry with them the faiths of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, animism, and atheism. And the central event of a bandit raid during a violent sandstorm is viewed through the differing perspectives of these nine believers and non-believers.

But it's the contents of the saddlebag that cracks open each life, right at the moment of death in some cases. The Chieftain changes his violent ways and transforms his life. The Priest, who was so filled with certainty, is left in doubt. There's something in there about the perfume of writing, the power of the written word - the doctrine of love from the Mother Book of life.

Though I'm at a bit of a loss as to what it all means. It's all veiled in mystery. I feel I should've read its poetry slower and with less distractions. It's a book I could see returning to again and again. When I finished, I turned back to page one and did start again, but it's since remained closed. I need some time to digest while it sinks in. I could see this book accompanying me on camping trips to the Sierras.

Maybe the saddlebag introduces you to your opposite, reunites you with your second half, the whole, you-complete-me thing, and all that. It reveals to us the truth that we most need to hear. Maybe.

Maybe I need better maps. Maybe I need to reach into the saddlebag and see what profound change it brings.

Check it out here at Amazon.


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