A celebrated poet, essayist and newly appointed (by President Obama) member of the National Council on the Humanities eloquently considers the global impact of our “Age of Terror.”
Merrill’s (Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, 2005, etc.) treatise explores the nature of terror, its place in the post-9/11 world and how it unites and galvanizes those in the throes of it. His trio of meditative essays is derived from exotic journeys to Malaysia, China and the Dead Sea, as well as from a panoramic view of war-torn Syria atop the plateau of the Golan Heights while pondering “the consequences of living in fear." The setting for his first essay is the muggy jungles of Kelantan in Malaysia, where Merrill observed the performance of a now-forbidden spirit-raising healing ritual presided over by a shaman to rid a village girl of her maladies. Seated with a tour guide on a wooden plank just beyond the stage, he takes stock of the state of faith, the nation and the aftermath of the turmoil of 9/11. A wandering expedition partially retracing the Beijing sojourn 19th-century poet-diplomat Saint-John Perse finds Merrill transfixed by Chinese history; he recounts a visit to a Zen Buddhist poet in Maui where he pensively tapped into the nature of human suffering after a week-long bout of stomach flu. The final section details the writer’s adventures visiting the Middle East’s Levant territory, where the American military occupation of Iraq still evokes local scorn. The author’s poetic background is evident in many lushly descriptive passages, and he clearly, rationally articulates his astute worldview. The essays can be hyperactively circuitous, however, with frequent digressions into the allegorical and the anecdotal. Terror, Merrill posits, is a fact of life, and his philosophically acute amalgam of religious, historical and political reflections will surely incite discussion and lively debate.
A unique travelogue boosted by wonderfully creative thinking with a political slant.