February 02, 2000
Novel by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani
Here is the review from the good book guide:
In the desert a Bedouin thief steals a saddlebag, hoping to gain great wealth from it, when pursued and surrounded he jumps, with the bag in his arms, from a high promontory. The thief is shattered on the rocks below but the saddlebag remains intact although certain papers are spilled from it onto the sand.
In a first novel of astonishing power and originality the author describes the fate of nine individuals as they travel the desert route between Medina and Mecca in the mid-19th-century. Each of them encounters and is subtly changed by the saddlebag, which, while it appears quite ordinary, is apparently imbued with the power of life and death of pain and ecstacy. Inspired by the holy books of the major religions of the world with references to the Bhagvad Gita, the Quaran and the sayings of Buddha and Confusius. This is both a thriller and a meditation on the ultimate goal of human existence but most of all it is a celebration of storytelling. At times it is horrific (tongues are cut out and throats slit with wanton ease) but such strong fare is balanced by invention and beautiful descriptive passages. The author tells her compelling tale with a humour which gently mocks the extravagant behaviour of these egocentric human beings and yet brings tears to the eyes when the saddlebag works its magic and their spirits are released from mortal bondage. A truly remarkable achievement.
©Copyright Rob Weinberg