Salaam and Greetings of Peace:
Deserts and Mountains, the debut novel by Yilmaz Alimoglu, is a lovingly told tale, and an adventure of self-discovery that is also a Sufi journey, all written with warmth and wisdom, tenderness and real affection for the characters.
Ali Dogan is a expatriate Turk living in Canada who in the first chapter has separated from his wife and two children. He is also a new dervish on the Sufi path, and when he asks his Sheikh for advice, he is told (in a truly beautiful, descriptive way) to seek knowledge, so as to understand what his heart is telling him. This sage advice begins his journey, which takes him literally to deserts and mountains in both a physical and spiritual way.
From Canada to Turkey (and his mother and father who still live in the same village), with side trips to the Acropolis in Greece and the Alhambra in Spain, he takes the reader on his journey of knowledge – from the new world to the old, from the freedom of Canada to the repressive state in Turkey, where primitive and cruel customs still prevail, to Greece and the beginnings of real civilization, the “birthplace” of Western knowledge, to the Alhambra, a symbol of the golden age of Islamic knowledge.
Even in Istanbul, that ancient metropolis that is the bridge between East and West, there lingers what he calls the corrupt remains of the Ottoman Empire, and the old and ugly patriarchal ways women are treated like property. He encounter this first hand when he develops a crush on Nour, a brilliant Turkish co-worker who cannot escape the fate of being a divorced woman with a jealous ex-husband.
Onward the journey continues, to Germany where the emotional stress of Nour takes its toll, then to Mali and the Sahara, and at last coming to terms with the vulnerable and confused man that Ali is, and of the soul seeking knowledge, balance, peace of heart and mind, which in the end he finds where he began.
Deserts and Mountains is as much a Sufi journey as a human journey, made by each of us in our own way, and Ali finally discovers the truth of the words the great Persian poet wrote 800 years ago:
Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.