Around the World in 80 Books: Persia

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Love how she's doing this reading challenge for under $20. Thinking I need to search my own library shelves for some Rumi now, too...

Welcome to the next installment in my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge! It’s exactly what it sounds like: I’m trying to read 80 books from 80 different countries/cultures around the world, and to add a frugal spin, I’m trying to do it all for under $20.

Here’s my running tally so far:

$0- Library books: Russia, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Spain, Nigeria, New Zealand, China, Canada, Jamaica, Austria, Mali, Afghanistan
$2.75- Late fees on the book for Italy
$0- Free eBooks: Scotland, England, Portugal, Cyprus, Albania, Montenegro, Mongolia
$0- Gift: Turkey, Pakistan, Autism in the USA
$0- Won in a Giveaway: Jerusalem
$0- Reward for participating in Summer Reading Program: Black America
$1.99- eBook: Basque Country, Japan
$0- Paid review on an interesting read: Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Grand Total: $6.73

I picked up today’s book at the library. It was one of the two Rumi options, and I blindly grabbed one as my children were about to terrorize my fellow bibliophiles.

Because I borrowed from the library, we’re still at $6.73. After today, I will have logged 31 books.


Love is my savior rumi arabic poetry

I read some Rumi in my teens. I liked it well enough, but I wasn’t overly into poetry back in those days. I appreciated it–it just wasn’t going to be the first tome I reached for.

I’ve recently rediscovered Rumi and his allegories and metaphors for love–the under-riding basis of virtually all spirituality and religion. I’ve scrolled through blogs and other websites dedicated to his poetry, and found new breaths of life.

And, yes, I realize Persia is no longer an empire in so many words, but Rumi lived across the Middle East throughout his life, and most of that was in Persia in the 1200s. Konya, which is now in Turkey and is where he wrote the vast majority of his works, may have been in the Byzantine Empire, technically. I’m not 100% on that.

So I thought I’d pick up a collection and give the holistic experience another shot.

I was left surprised. Love is My Savior is the first of Rumi’s Arabic works to be translated into English. Rumi bounced between four languages to express himself in different ways. Arabic provided some great opportunities for poetic license, and was often intertwined with Persian–the language in which he wrote most of his poems.

While I’m used to Rumi talking about love in erotic analogies, measuring one type of love just as great as another, what I’m not used to is him talking about heartbreak.

This book pulls largely from Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, named for his spiritual mentor, Shams. Shams and Rumi were crazy close, delving into the mystical aspects of Islam together, and perhaps loving each other in the way some of the more erotic poetry suggests. In the 1200s, when Rumi lived, there weren’t really as many prescribed lines surrounding sexuality. Heteronormativity was much weaker.

I did enjoy the book, but I have to admit, reading Rumi’s writings on heartbreak was…a little heartbreaking. I’m used to his words lifting me up and enlightening me. I’m used to reading about absorbing and producing love wherever we can find the means to do so. So it was discombobulating to read words that focused so strongly on his attachment to Shams, and the gut-wrenching pain he endured because of it.

Eventually, he learned to find an extension of that same love with his students. By working with them, he was connecting to the current of love that had flowed between him and Shams. The pure love of enlightenment.

But most of this book is a lament.

I didn’t hate it. Rumi is brilliant regardless of his mood. It just wasn’t what I was expecting. Here are some of the lines that particularly struck me:

Destroyed by your troubles, how you grieve and sigh…
By God! Listen to my proclamation!
He knows who caused your mind’s devastation.
From abasement, your soul will always rise.
You’ve abandoned all for love’s enterprise.
Be still. God is your helper. He’s the prize.
-From “Banner of Love”

My lover is a whale, and my desire
pure water–an ocean–with no end time.
Can a whale grow bored in a pure ocean?
-From “He’s Never Bored with Love”

Were you a lightning bolt or just a ball of flame?
You left me with no home here, all the same.
I worship you, but drunk I here remain.
Is that your grace, or is it my soul’s stain?
If I repent my sin, that’s sin…and shame.
If love is my savior, so when will I be saved?
Now reason shouts at me: “No! Don’t step off
the righteous path or it will be your grave!”
But isn’t death the only thing I crave?
-Love Is My Savior

Look! Our love shines on, past earth and heaven!
The days have kept our bodies far apart,
I swear by God, my heart is still with you.
My heart is tender when my love is new,
sad and grieving when lovers must part.
My heart sends you my messages of love–
no end. But I’m still thirsty! What to do?
My soul returns to the places I saw you.
Can I repent the sin of love this true?
-From “I Climbed to Heaven”

Have a recommendation for what I should read next? Leave it in the comments! Here’s what’s already in my queue:
Philippines: May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin recommended by Guiltless Reader
Iceland: Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget
Sudan: The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih recommended by Kate Wilson
Ethiopia: The God Who Begat a Jakal by Nega Mezlekia recommended by Based On a True Story
French Antilles: Victoire: My Mother’s Mother by Maryse Conde recommended by Based on A True Story
Suriname: The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod recommended by Based On A True Story
Germany: In the Garden of Beasts or Devil in the White City by Erik Larson recommended by Emi from AIP Around the World
Haiti: All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell recommended by Tre from House of Tre
South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton recommended by Emily from The John & Jane Doe Guide to Money & Investing
Australia: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson recommended by Aaron from When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Vodka
Romania: Anything by Andre Codrescu recommended by Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies
Croatia: Girl at War by Sara Novi recommened by Erin from TexErin-In-Sydneyland
India: Malguid Days by R.K. Narayan recommended by Michael from Stretch a Dime
Vietnam: The Refugees by Viet Than Nyugen recommended by Nicole from Adventures of a Semper Fi Family

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