The Merman and the Book of Power: A Qissa

KITAB |228 pp (with 17 full-color illustrations) | ISBN: 978-969-616-049-6 | PKR 2,000

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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...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 biblio-mystery of sorts, delving into the fantastic and historical, the mythic and the poetic, to try to find answers in life and books.

Shazia Omar in INDIA TODAY

  • MUSHARRAF ALI FAROOQI INVENTS A NEW MYTHOLOGY THAT REVISES THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HUMANS AND NATURE: True to form, this story, presented by Farooqi as a Qissa, challenges the social norms of the time and culture it is set in: the medieval caliphate of Baghdad...In the tale, we see how a deeply-rooted patriarchy allows men to be leaders and administrators, researchers and writers, philosophers and thinkers; while women are relegated to the role of sex slaves. The female protagonist is fiery and defiant, expressing desire and lust, yes, but this only makes her more of an outcast. Her healthy sexual appetite is seen as depraved, wanton and lewd. Her sexuality is her only power and she uses it to save herself. By teasing and taunting the merman, she seduces him. She doesn't quake before his ferocity. The love that grows between the two, symbolises the conflicted relationship between humans and nature, known and unknown, civilised and wild...Qissas tend to be understood as legends, myths, fairy tales, fables, parables and allegories. As such, this Qissa includes many magical elements from the pages of a 'book of power' which presents demons from Islamic fabulist folk-stories to English readers. In doing so, the writer offers us a mythology we are largely unfamiliar with. In the end, you feel satisfied, but also curious. You feel you want to read more of Farooqi.

Mahmood Farooqui in The Book Review India

  • A FECUND GENRE: For nearly a millennia, the qissa has been one of the most fecund genres in the written and oral literatures of Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi and beyond...For his telling of a qissa in English, Musharraf Farooqi travels back in time to one of the most apocalyptic moments in world history: the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, which, in a sense, ended the world as it then existed...As befits a qissa there are also supernatural creatures and events galore...Writing this qissa on and about polymaths necessarily required the writer to be an erudite polyglot and in that respect Farooqi is one of the most accomplished writers of South Asia...There are few writers in South Asia who can match this kind of multilingual fluency and erudition, and fewer still who can match that with a range of creative output that extends from fiction, translation, dictionary making, and practical engagements with pedagogy and performance.

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.

RIGHTS SOLD : South Asia (English language) | Agent: The Colchie Agency

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