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Deserts and Mountains: A Novel
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Before I begin my review, I will confess that I identify with the protagonist Ali. Enough said. Ali is a man searching for answers. The jacket notes tell us he is a student of Sufism, and from this, many of us would infer what we have seen in the movies, the Whirling Dervish. Ali whirls, but he whirls in his heart. There is much in the deserts and mountains of Ali's heart which contradict. He is a technical person, a software engineer who is taught logic, who speaks the language of machines, but he is also Sufi, which means he hears with his heart. The author takes us from Canada to Turkey to Africa and back again. Everywhere along the way, he experiences the different forms of love and tries to put them into perspective. From Ali's learnings, we can make our own. This is a spiritual journey much like those taken by Coelho or Castaneda, without the attempts at high drama. There are unexpected turns of events. Tragedy occurs. Direction changes. Ali finds something. You will too.

The Catholic monk and author Thomas Merton gives us a mantra: God is Love, God is Life, God is Light. Ali Dogan searches for all three. There are lessons to be learned about the way the spirit and the quotidian reality of our jobs and families work together to join us to the whole. Read, learn, and most of all, apply your learning. One of the characters says this: "Poets and philosophers who teach us to love and work are the finest." This is the framework of the message Ali brings us. Find your own way to applying it.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2010
Deserts and Mountains, the debut novel by Yilmaz Alimoglu, is a lovingly told tale, and an adventure of self-discovery that is also a Sufi journey, all written with warmth and wisdom, tenderness and real affection for the characters.

Ali Dogan is a expatriate Turk living in Canada who in the first chapter has separated from his wife and two children. He is also a new dervish on the Sufi path, and when he asks his Sheikh for advice, he is told (in a truly beautiful, descriptive way) to seek knowledge, so as to understand what his heart is telling him. This sage advice begins his journey, which takes him literally to deserts and mountains in both a physical and spiritual way.

From Canada to Turkey (and his mother and father who still live in the same village), with side trips to the Acropolis in Greece and the Alhambra in Spain, he takes the reader on his journey of knowledge - from the new world to the old, from the freedom of Canada to the repressive state in Turkey, where primitive and cruel customs still prevail, to Greece and the beginnings of real civilization, the "birthplace" of Western knowledge, to the Alhambra, a symbol of the golden age of Islamic knowledge.

Even in Istanbul, that ancient metropolis that is the bridge between East and West, there lingers what he calls the corrupt remains of the Ottoman Empire, and the old and ugly patriarchal ways women are treated like property. He encounter this first hand when he develops a crush on Nour, a brilliant Turkish co-worker who cannot escape the fate of being a divorced woman with a jealous ex-husband.

Onward the journey continues, to Germany where the emotional stress of Nour takes its toll, then to Mali and the Sahara, at last coming to terms with the vulnerable and confused man that Ali is, and of the soul seeking knowledge, balance, peace of heart and mind, which he at last finds where he began.

Deserts and Mountains is as much a Sufi journey as a human journey, made by each of us in our own way, and Ali finally discovers the truth of the words the great Persian poet wrote 800 years ago:

Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.

-Jalaluddin Rumi
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2010
The title, "Deserts and Mountains" is both a powerful metaphor, and also a dichotomy of how two vast entities have so much power and influence in light of spiritual awareness and enlightenment. The influence that these natural wonders have is to provide someone like the protagonist with the vigor to both metaphorically climb and ascend to high altitudes, like the Acropolis, and to descend to the lowlands of Africa to in order to gain a deeper awareness of humanity.

Through the protagonist, Ali, I was able to both figuratively and literally experience a spiritual enlightenment through the powerful world that he immerses himself in as he journeys throughout exotic lands. Not only does the reader acquire a global and historical perspective of lands like Africa, Greece, and Turkey, but the reader also acquires a more meaningful and powerful relationship with God and spirituality.

At one point in the journey, the sheikh asserts that "The soul awakens and grows through grief and joy, each in its time. It has always been this way. The prophets show us the way. We move by the current within us. When the river of the spirit moves freely all is well and the soul opens and grows this way." The "growth" that the skeikh speaks of can only be achieved by allowing the spirit to move freely." This is exactly what the protagonist, Ali, does in his quest of human enlightenment and spiritual understanding.

"Deserts and Mountains" is an enlightening journey that contains powerful, moving, and inspirational prose that guides the soul through an unforgettable trek through humanity.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2010
Before I started to read "deserts and mountains" I was not sure what to expect .I was slightly cynical about expatriates writing story about their country of origin, usually with western market in mind. I was not impressed by melodramatic story lines employed by these types of writers and the cheap sensationalism in their writing.
However, I was so pleasantly surprised by Yilmaz's work. I was impressed by his courage and originality that only a genuine seeker could produce .He almost did not care about the story line or drama within the novel. It was as if the centre of the novel was the growth of Ali's self and it was this evolution that leads the story line. I would say this was rather bold step from a writer and it worked very well in hitting correct buttons within me.

This novel has many layers of knowledge within it .I find the richness of this novel leis in the fact that Yilmaz, through the character Ali attempt to analyze into every aspect of human knowledge, science, philosophy, history ,chemistry (he even mentioned Kekule`s structure), architecture searching for an unifying universal truth. He talks about duality of nature, dream analysis, ultimate love and reality.

I find Yilmaz's choice of language refreshing. It reflects the authenticity of his thoughts which further enhanced by his choice of vocabulary which can be deemed as unusual at times. Where I work as a chemistry lecturer, I have to start our day by reading inspiring words to our students. I am so glad I found a book that is full of wisdom and inspiration, that I can read to my students for many months to come.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2011
If there is one thing which I love about this new cultural landscape of the internet we seem to inhabit more and more, it is the ability of cultural creatives, artists, musicians, writers, armchair philosophers, spiritual seekers, and just about anyone else with an idea to make personal effort to promote themselves, find like minded souls and share a bit of themselves with the world in a fashion that is akin to word of mouth, but on such a broader scale.

Yilmaz Alimoglu's wonderful novel Deserts and Mountains is not the first book to reach me in such a way. A few years ago, I was introduced to Tony Vigorito's work (which is entirely different but every bit as thoughtful) in the same fashion, and I must say that both experiences have enriched my life, and meeting Yilmaz, even if only in the `virtual world' of electrons flitting around crystals and screens, adds a new layer of experience to reading a novel and experiencing the intention of an author. I hope to see and experience more of this type of interaction between creators and witnesses (I will NOT say consumers!) in the future.

In an age when mass publishing houses are promoted by the likes of Oprah and many `spiritual journey' books are tossed about in conversation like so many pulp mystery novels, used more to establish cultural identity and coolness factor rather than actual spiritual growth and rendering them stale and one dimensional in the larger pop culture context, it is refreshing to be presented with a truly grounded, personal and humble novel such as Deserts and Mountains. Add to that an author who seems to be joyous about interacting with his readers in the online realm, and the experience begins to dissolve boundaries even further and the book acts as a catalyst for further discussion.

This is exactly what I find to be the true beauty of Deserts and Mountains.
Yilmaz manages to create a highly personal feel to this fictional work, so much so that at times I found myself feeling so connected to the main character of Ali that I had to wonder how much of it was actually fiction. I felt as if Yilmaz might really be sitting next to me sharing some of his own life story.

The amazing thing about the novel is that it moves so smoothly between personal stories and exposition of many of the concepts of Sufism. In a time when a great deal of the Western world has a very warped and uninformed understanding of Islam and Muslims, especially when it comes to the Mystical aspects of the many cultures which comprise the Islamic World, a book such as this can act as something more than simply being a novel. It can act as a much needed primmer opening one to a deeper understanding of the depth and meaning of a tradition which seems to be so misunderstood by so many.
I have been `studying' aspects of Sufism for more than a few years now, attempting to reach beyond the romanticized Western versions of the poetry of such Masters as Hafiz and Rumi. Along the way I have discovering Attar's Conference of the Birds (a personal favorite), Ibn Arabi, El Ghazzali, the more modern Hazrat Inayat Khan as well as others and was pleased to find passages inspired by or quoting many of the Greats of the tradition sprinkled throughout the book, always at appropriate places in which they did not seem the least bit intrusive, but rather, a natural part of the flow, being exposition of the internal workings of Ali.
Sufism seems to be so much more that many realize, truly a beautiful and evolving tradition which understands its role in society and how it must adapt to the varying situations in life, yet at it's core nurture the deepest understandings of and personal relationship to the Divine (often referred to as `The Friend' or "The Beloved" within the tradition, which shows just how personal of a relationship Sufism can instill).
One amazing aspect of this novel is that it manages to translate that idea in a decidedly non academic manner through personal storytelling.
The thread of The Friend runs through every moment, whether the main character, Ali, finds himself in his adopted home of Canada, his homeland of Turkey, the Sahara or visiting Greece and Spain. This thread works as a great example of how our lives evolve and how we `digest' and integrate our experiences, how we interpret them, color them by the beliefs we hold onto, and how, at times, those beliefs need to evolve in order to encompass the truths which seem to reveal themselves before our very eyes.
I'm sure it was not easy for Ali to return to his homeland only to find himself rather disgusted by the distorted display of morals and ethics (or lack thereof) which destroy romanticized memories. Yet, in a very real sense, the experience becomes a lens through which Ali can witness his own inner development and progress along The Path.

In a time when we are all having to learn more every day about how to exist in multi-cultural context in an increasingly pluralistic world, many times living great distances from where our cultural patterns and roots evolved, novels such as this can play a key roll in helping us understand what we are all going through, and that we are not alone in the quest to make peace with it.
So many of us are having to readjust our cultural perceptions as we are finding ourselves removed from original context and being able to re-examine our cultures of origin from outside, with fresh eyes.
Could Ali have truly understood and seen the problems he witnessed upon returning to his homeland of Turkey if he had not moved to Canada or some other outside culture? Maybe he needed that juxtaposition in order to open his eyes and allow him to see clearly, something we can all use a little more of in these seemingly chaotic times of cultural rearrangement. These are not simple times we live in, and cultivating this ability to witness, to see both connections and differences becomes something of increasing importance, especially if we are to find a common ground in which we can all find a way to coexist and understand each other and the need for maintaining our own personal understandings of life while at the same time maintaining that connection with those that differ, something that is elemental in building the foundations of compassion and maintaining a personal spiritual compass when presented with such a pluralistic flood of cultural ideas and mythologies.

Yilmaz does a wonderful job of humanizing Ali. He also does a wonderful job of showing the connection between science and spirituality. Ali's secular life as a scientist blends so well into the mystical, and helps one to understand the common experimental nature needed in order to fully understand either - that is, experimenting while maintaining keen observation and awareness, something that his scientific background seems to help a great deal with, allowing Ali to move into a more objective `mindspace' when it is called upon to overcome cultural filters and witness more clearly.
The intellectual nature of the story is wonderfully paired with the emotional nature of Ali's experiences.
He faces intense emotional experiences: a love thought lost and possibly beyond recovery only to be renewed in a new, more mature fashion, new love lost to mortality, overcoming culturally imprinted ethnic bias during his visit to Greece, and most of all, confronting himself and his own illusions about who he is and his place in the world.
The transitions between the various situations in which Ali finds himself flows very naturally, even when events take U-turns. Some might be confused by moments such as when he decides to immediately return to Turkey from Spain so that he can `find himself' on the Mountain, but anyone who has followed their own intuitive path will immediately understand the pressing need and seeming obsession. Such things are what great breakthroughs are made of. The same can be said for his journey to the desert, a place where all but the most vital aspects of culture tend to be stripped bare.

One of the greatest rewards of the book is to witness Ali return to his adopted home transformed and more capable of understanding himself and those he loves, and I was very pleased that his family, which remained in Canada as he moved forward on his journey, continued to be vital and important elements along his journey and reflected his own progress within the growth and evolution, the opening of eyes, which developed as they grew to understand and know each other more; something that also reflects the theme of growing and developing clearer understanding through a process of removing oneself from the situation and seeing with new eyes.

I applaud Yilmaz for presenting his first novel to the world and taking such great care in how he shares it and interacts with his readers. It might be possible that the small scale of distribution and marketing have been a blessing to the readers who have been lucky enough to share in this, as it has allowed for a more personalized experience - something which seems intrinsically important to such material.
I look forward to the next journey presented by Mr. Alimoglu, as I am sure it will be every bit as vital and vibrant as Deserts and Mountains.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2010
Deserts and Mountains

by
Yilmaz Alimoglu

In Deserts and Mountains, Yilmaz Alimoglu leads us through the life experience of Ali, a character symbol of the conflict between two different cultures. Ali, after his departure from Turkey, his homeland, and his moving to Canada, seems to enjoy the new world, and the choice to marry a Western woman, endowed with a secular point of view on different aspects of life, seems to be a proof of this. At the same time, even when Ali tries to not neglect his Muslim roots even in such an atmosphere, he seems to be lost in a spiritual limbo and, even when he enjoys a high degree of professional success, he feels deeply dissatisfied with his life without love.

When his marriage is about to dissolve, Ali starts reflecting on his own life. He feels oppressed and takes a painful decision. Ali leave his family and starts a journey in order to understand his own past and the choices which lead him in his present spiritual emptiness.

Ali goes back to his homeland, meets his parents, finds love again, but all these experiences don't seem to be enough to cure his sick soul. Soon he discovers that in Turkey the bright face of Islam is disfigured by ignorance and hypocrisy. After the woman, he starts loving deeply, got killed by her former husband, Ali leaves Turkey and starts travelling again.

His uneasiness is latent. His brief stay in Al-Hambra, the symbol of a glorious phase of the Islamic history, seems to have increased his sense of alienation. Soon Ali understands that he cannot start a new life without justifying the past one. He goes on with his journey. He visits Germany, where he collapses and is hospitalized; he then leaves for Africa with his uncle and finds himself at the end of the travels in the Sahara desert.

The desert is the place of purification, receives every repentance and frees someone from the superfluous richness of his life. Ali actually needs to stay in the desert in order to free himself from his own spiritual wilderness.

Later he will come back to his family in Canada. However, when someone travels to uncover one's own self, the place of return is only a symbol, a station and a stage towards another journey, full of questions. How would Ali answer?

Reviewed by Dr Sabrina Lei
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2010
Alimoglu skilfully stitches episodes of his own life experiences to make the character Ali Dogan come to life. The richness of the descriptions of the scenes and interactions lets the reader fully immerse him or herself and become Ali Dogan. Reading Desserts and Mountains reminded me of my first experience with Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist", a strong prose meandering between reflection and contemplation of the character's next move. The reader becomes the central character.

Through the course of Dogan's travels, many of the burning questions that he struggled with get answered, but in the process of this unravelling, more and more even deeper questions come to surface. Through Dogan, Alimoglu also narrates effects of cultural self-transformation and being able see one's past through a different perspective, particularly on his visit back to Turkey.

Through the book, Alimoglu does a fantastic job of shining a spotlight on some of the darker corners of decadent societies which condone brazen honour killings, retribution, and sexual exploitation particularly in a country which aims to project a modern progressive Islamic society like Turkey. The novel delves into the fundamental questions around beliefs, norms, dogma, love, lust and honour as well as interpersonal relationships through the character's experiences without necesarily leading to any conclusion, but rather leaving the reader to reflect and personally relate to the circumstances. Dogan's journey is one that many of us yearn to make as we are all burdened by a past that we do not fully comprehend - this book might give us the courage to pursue answers to our own burning questions.

Alimoglu has not only debuted his first piece, but may have actually introduced the readers to refreshingly new style of writing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2010
I enjoyed this book, finding it an engrossing as well as a very challenging read. While helping me to understand some of the issues that might be encountered in a cross cultural marriage, it also indirectly introduced the issues related to the 'fallout,' an adult victim of child abuse may have to address if they are to mature. The latter is something I have some familiarity with, having been exposed to recovery concepts through work in 12 step groups, and I found that the author accomplished the introduction of the topic well within the structure of the story, without resorting to improbable devices or heavy handedness. I found the main character's, (Ali's) attitude towards women ignorant and patronizing, reflecting his limited awareness of himself in relationship. I was able to be sympathetic to him as his personality is consistent with the workaholic nature that appears to have been inculcated in him since early childhood - he probably didn't get much chance to develop his "emotional IQ" in the stressful family, academic, and job/business environments he inhabited until he undertakes the, "pilgrimage," (in essence) that the tale recounts. He "grew" in believable ways in the body of the novel helping to make his character more palatable. The author emphasizes the politics and culture of Turkey and the way in which they shape both the protagonist and his culture. This contributed to the depth and scope of the story-the tale is told simply yet contains layers/levels of meaning and significance. The comments made about Turkey's politics, culture, academic climate, all reflect these nuances. One of the books strong points is the use of place. The circumstances that Ali faces in his travels, and the descriptions of the settings, the physical deserts and mountains of the title, within which the situations unfold have a real impact. As a result, I wished that I could see and visit some of the places Ali went to during his journey. All in all this was a good read-educational and informative as well as entertaining. Some of the dialogue really sparkled as well, a rare treat.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2010
The first time I laid down my eyes on Deserts and Mountains I was hypnotized by the power of its cover. As a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, I look for balance in everything, between yin and yang, the sunny and the shady part, the deserts and the mountains. Striking intertwining drawing, it got me intrigued even before I opened the book.

Reading the first few chapters was like starting my own journey. Ali, the protagonist of this novel, starts a journey, as his Sheikh suggested, "to make a map of his heart". It can really trace down the map of your heart, if you allow it. No matter where you came from or where you are now, there will be many places in this book where you will feel like home. It resonates with the father, mother and child in you. It resonated with the immigrant in me, who lost some of the roots, only to find out that the only home is in our heart.

He often criticizes his own culture and the adopted one. Some statements felt too harsh, in spite of their veracity. This pattern is consistent throughout the book, but each time to realize that these thoughts lead to one single idea - we all need to understand and accept each other. And ultimately, to have compassion and allow our many differences to unite us, not separate us.

The abundance of subjects covered in this book went beyond my expectations. From detailed history to highly philosophical discussions, this book is a gem that will infuse your consciousness with precious insights. It will be the book on your night desk, not the dusted, forgotten one. Because this is the book that we are all looking for, to help us take the little steps that make up our life.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2010
I have just finished reading "Deserts and Mountains" by Yilmaz Alimoglu. It is so full of surprises and sparks of wisdom, it beckons one to turn another page and read more. I recommend this novel to all people, regardless of faith, or lack thereof, for an experience that seems foreign at times, yet never fails to hit home. It is a tale of a man, Ali, growing, through serious difficulties, to better know himself, and subsequently, to have a greater understanding of those around him. The stories ring true and familiar as they are stories of a human coming into being, seeing and hearing and experiencing life with new found clarity. Some of the passages in this book lead the reader through tunnels of destructive thinking into visions of the beauty of humans in their varied forms and customs. Gems of history, of Islam, and especially, of Sufism, are revealed to Ali, and the reader, in his journey to, and through, varied cultures existing today. These jewels I hold dear and am thankful to have been invited to share. I especially enjoyed experiencing a little of what it means to be a Sufi. I found it quite lovely. I hope that many, in this world, take this verbal journey that has loosened a few of the chains binding my heart. It is important, for the chains are invisible, their weight goes unnoticed, but their dissipation feels so very fine.
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