What to make of a kid born with four ears? One thing’s for sure: he’s bound to listen.
Novelist/screenwriter Golding (Benjamin’s Gift, 1999, etc.) strains for significance and symbolic import with this yarn, a blend of fable and what Edward Said would surely call (and not as a compliment) orientalist fantasy, with The Other being strange and inscrutable but all-too-human for all that. With his four ears, “placed side by side, like pairs of matched seashells,” Nouri Ahmad Mohammad ibn Mahsoud al-Morad can’t help but be noticed for good and ill—and mostly for ill, since the superstitious inhabitants of his little village are naturally curious, and not in a complimentary way, about the kid. The hero has an unusual feature: check. The hero sets off on a heroic journey: check. The hero is misunderstood and feared: check. With a Joseph Campbell–worthy schematic, the kid heads off to the big city to find such fortunes as the djinns and deity will allow. Fortunately for the sage Nouri, he falls in with Sufis whose master sees in him the makings of a pretty cool dude. Followers with arcane knowledge: check, as Golding waxes encyclopedic: “Centered on the chanting of litanies and accompanied by the playing of music, the sema was deep at the heart of Sufi practice.” Sema-antics aside, Nouri undergoes all sorts of adventures in quest of—well, that’d be telling, but suffice it to say that there are fraught moments throughout (“the look on Vishpar’s face as the marauder ran him through was what remained in Nouri’s heart as they carried him away”). There’s a Life of Pi–ish tang to the whole enterprise, although, to his credit, Golding is the better writer, and he manages to avoid the worst of New Age treacliness. And, for whatever reason, there’s lots of good eating throughout, complete with a glossary of food terms. For what hero wants to go hungry?
A modest book with heroic pretentions likely to appeal most to the Sedona/Santa Fe set.