Walking the Path:
A book Review of Deserts and Mountain
By Yilmaz Alimoglu
More than just being Yilmaz Alimoglu’s debut novel, I have come to see Deserts and Mountains as a personal invitation to explore the depth of the human experience in our modern times. Though the story of Ali Dogan, the main character of the narrative, and his search for the truth and more importantly identity, takes the reader through a variety of different location like the ruins of the Acropolis in Greece, the living edifice of the Calat Al Hambra in Spain, and the pregnant expanses of silence in the Sahara, the real stage where the main character’s transformation plays out is in that singular field spoken of by Rumi out beyond all ideas, beyond all duality where the soul lays down, to rest and perhaps to learn as well.
After coming to term with his failing marriage Ali Dogan seeks the council of his sheikh (a spiritual guide on the Sufi path) and is told to go and seek knowledge, to seek to understand his heart. He advises him to travel and visit the great Sufi centers of the antiquity and modernity keeping a journal of his thoughts and observations. During the course of his travels Ali’s exterior journey through the deserts and mountains mirrors the internal. As he climbs the mountain near his old boarding school to camp out and spend a night out under the stars, he internally climbs a mountains constructed of past memories and dreams, only to arrive at a penetrating epiphany about himself and his life. Similarly so, as Ali traverses the Sahara desert, he is also traverse that inner space confronting the realities of the loss of a loved one, of a failed marriage, of Love.
In Deserts and Mountains just as Ali’s interior and exterior journeys are entwined, so too is societal and individual development. Ali’s journey starts in Turkey the country of his birth which itself is caught between the excesses of its repressive past, and its attempts to continue modernization efforts to join the West. In Istanbul, the historic gateway between East and West, Ali gets to experience firsthand both sides of this conflict within the confines of his growing relationship with his female coworker Noor, who ultimately succumbs to the affliction that is being a divorcee with an ex-husband determined to avenge his honor in a cultural that still views women as property.
We can gauge the extent to which the 20th century was truly a turbulent passage in that for both the main character Ali, being a father, a husband, Turkish as well as Canadian has not helped or done much to shed any light on his identity. The character in many ways personifies Turkey and vice versa as they are both at an important crossroads. At this crossroads the seeming antithetical forces of ancient spiritual traditions and modernization, Islamic and Western Culture are coming together into a unique synthesis.
The plight of Ali and Turkey in Deserts and Mountains mirrors the current state of the global society. One ramification of having new advances in communication and aviation accessible to more and more people has been the intimate meeting of many different cultures. We all have to choose like Ali how we will live in this new time in a way that gives a sense of dignity to our variegated sense of identity.
I highly recommend this book because it recapitulates in a very easy and accessible language the many issues facing us today both as individuals and as a global culture. But more importantly to me, being a dervish is the fact that Mr. Yilmaz has succeeded in presenting Sufism in a modern context.
Sufism, as I have witnessed in my tenor as a dervish, is an experience that is as old as mankind itself. Sufism always has to be presented in a format that is specific to the time, the place and the people. Ali Dogan is a dervish of our times in him the ancient spiritual Sufi tradition are finding a new ways to express in the Western field of endeavor. To this end I found it very important that stylistically that Mr. Yilmaz let the honesty and reality of many of Ali’s struggles speak for themselves. I didn’t see Ali as a hero, just as a man which is welcome change to the larger than life characters put into seemingly improbable situations.
As a dervish, I feel trying to distill from 232 of a beautiful a moral does disrespect to the immensity of issues and experiences that were presented and the care Mr. Alimoglu put into crafting this narrative. Instead I would like to return to that field, out beyond right-doing and wrongdoing out beyond any duality that is in many ways here with us now in the moment. Sometimes to see and feel it tangibly we need friction, we need calamity, and irritation as much as the oyster does to make a flawless pearl. Ali Dogan’s stresses, his losses, his yearning all in the story precipitated into something very special.
Lastly while reading this book; a quote came often to my mind from Jelaluddin Rumi that I had read in The Way of Passion by Andrew Harvey that I finally found and would like to share now.
I lost my world, I lost the whole of my environment, my fame, my mind, I lost everything that I thought I knew, everything, because the sun appeared, the Divine Light came up, the Master appeared in Shams, and I knew that I knew nothing, and all the shadows in me, all the illusions ran away. I ran after them, but even as I ran after them, the sun shone on me, so I vanished as I ran.