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Fantastic art but ...
on February 21, 2013
It's more than evident why this book took Thomson several (I think seven) years to create. Visually it's astonishing work. Since it's so heavily relied on the Islamic culture it had to involve all aspects of Arabic art, I'm thinking in the first place calligraphy and then architecture with all traditional ornaments, incrustation and of course Arabic Alphabet. Every single page, starting from the cover which is gorgeous: hardcover with gold elements and richly ornamented.
I happened to know to read Arabic (though not to understand what I'm reading) and I've noticed a mistake which left me a bit baffled cause I wasn't sure if it has been left intentionally the way it stands there or not but then, there is no rational reason for leaving it like that: on the page 236 with the image of Adam in the first heaven who is watching the righteous ones on his right side in Jannah (paradise) and the cursed ones in Jahannam (hell) on his left side, the word ADAM is written correctly but ONLY if you read it left to right which is the wrong way to read Arabic. The letters should have been ordered in reverse.
So, visually this is a masterpiece. The story however is not matching the level of the drawings. It's heavily researched, no doubt about that but it goes in every direction. It has religious component, this time it is a story written in Qur'an and it is very interesting because there are parallels with the stories from the Bible. I liked very much the drawing on the page 618 with the tree of prophets: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, Solomon, Jesus, Muhammad where the branches have been split and Muhammad's lineage can be traced back to Ishmael and the one of Jesus back to Isac, both (Ishmael and Isac) lying on the altar prepared to be sacrificed by Abraham. Fantastic!
The story that is happening in the present is the most confusing part: it deals with so many issues. Maybe the most prominent are environmental and the position of women in traditional societies. "Traditional society" is what confuses the most because we see Sultan with his harem and the treatment of women there as his properties which he kills (literally) because he's bored. (after he sexually exploited them quite heavily) And in the same time,just on the other side of the wall that surrounds the Sultan's palace is 21st century, modern city full of women without niqab or hijab on the streets. Huh?
Then there is a massive pollution that big city creates. On the streets of that polluted city in apparently Islamic world we will see group of hijras! Huh (again)? How on earth they ended there?
The name of the city, Wanadolia surely associate geographically on nowadays Turkey, though with all that deserts it's more Arabian Peninsula but definitively not India (though who knows; there are Muslims in India). The name of the main character, Dodola is actually (my) Slavic folklore. Dodola is goddess of rain in Slavic mythology and there was tradition where girls dressed in white dresses and flower wreaths on their heads, barefooted sang songs to attract the rain. Those girls (and the festival itself) are named Dodole (-e because it's plural).
Indeed, during Ottoman rule they were taking kids from their parents and Dodola might have been somewhere from Slavic region BUT her father would never be dressed like in the book. Because he's dressed clearly as a Muslim and no Muslim would name his daughter after Slavic goddess.
So the story is indeed going in so many direction leaving (at least) me a bit confused because of certain level of contradictoriness which bothered me because it could have been so easily avoided. But nevertheless it was enjoyable read and again I was sop enchanted with the drawings which in the end have saved the day :)
(Gosh, I'm staring in those stars not knowing how should I rate the book for last 5 minutes. If I'm to rate art work I would give 5 stars but the plot... I "liked it" but not "really liked it". I want to give overall 4 stars but feels like 3 is what I should give ... which I'll do. It's 3 stars)