The Merman and the Book of Power: A Qissa

Aleph Book Company | 208 pp | INR 499 | ISBN: 978-93-88292-93-1 | Buy India Edition Now (Amazon | Flipkart)

KITAB |228 pp (Illustrated) | PKR 1500 | ISBN: 978-969-616-049-6 | Pre-Order Pakistan Edition (KITAB)

RIGHTS SOLD : South Asia | Agent: The Colchie Agency


Told by Musharraf Ali Farooqi

The Merman and the Book of Power brings into the English the classical qissa genre, a fabulist storytelling form. The book begins with the Mongol armies laying siege to Baghdad in 1258. Their attack does not cease from the early hours of light to darkness. Such is the ferocity of their advance that the citizens of the city are convinced they are the manifestation of the creatures of Apocalypse, Gog and Magog, imprisoned by the legendary King Alexander. Baghdad falls, the Mongols take over.

A year later, when the city gates open to allow a strange creature—half man, half beast—caught by Mediterranean fishermen, fresh rumours begin to circulate. Is Gujastak the Merman one of Creation’s marvels or an ill omen whose appearance signals the Apocalypse? In parallel to the Merman’s story is the story of a talismanic book that confers diabolical powers on the one who possesses it.

The qissa comes to glowing life as it spins a tale of magical creatures, ill-starred lovers, and the phenomena that might bring the world to its end.


Maaz bin Bilal in SCROLL

  • Farooqi’s qissa in English gives us the rich tapestry of a West Asian world with its flourishing knowledge systems that are often forgotten today when most research and technology are seen to be centred in the West (or, sometimes now, in the Far East). Moreover, the interactions between the Mediterranean empires of Christians and Muslims are pointedly continuous and overlapping, albeit contentious, as they indeed were in history, until the renaissance gave birth to a united Europe that has resulted into the fortress of today. In contrast, the Levant of the novel is a dynamic space of fertile exchange. Power here is knowledge that must be retained by empires, but exchanges hands, and becomes unwieldy until it lands finally in the hands of the scholar who is almost a Platonic philosopher king. A deeply research-oriented tradition and a strong spirit of enquiry is evident in the works of the Muslim scholars who are working with Islamic and other texts to strive towards truth. An alternative academia is at play...[The Merman and the Book of Power] is an interesting journey, a bibliomystery of sorts, delving into the fantastic and historical, the mythic and the poetic, to try to find answers in life and books.

Sucheta Dasgupta in THE ASIAN AGE

  • FABLES FROM CALIPHATE IN A CROSS-SPECIES LOVE STORY: Written in elegant style with a delicious yet dry sense of humour and a thoroughly modern gaze, this book could have been titled “A Dictionary of Demons in Islamic Eschatology”... It is, instead, a very entertaining love story. The Pakistani-Canadian author declares this is his attempt to bring the qissa or the, mostly oral tradition of Islamic fabulism to English reading audiences...Its telling is what makes all the difference. The reader is transported to the medieval era, when Tatars and Magyars were captains in Qazwini's court, Baghdad's scholars visited Azerbaijan and Volga Bulgar, and Iltutmish was on the throne of Delhi. One point of interest could perhaps be the portrayal of the women of Baghdad. It is highly sexed, but never toxic... Its message is an interesting one. It is that love and vanity cannot abide together. That makes it a fairytale for our times.

Poorna Swami in LIVEMINT

  • WHEN FANTASY PRETENDS TO BE HISTORY: Irreverent to historicity and yet seemingly trying to tell a history, the book consciously blurs document and fable... Philosophical musings are coupled with dramatic, often funny events, both everyday and supernatural. Characters live in emotions that are appropriately ostentatious for fairy tale... Fantasy pretends to be history, and history lives a fuller life through these inventions... hubristic humans, living out their most demonic acts.