My first surprise was realizing that this was originally written in English and not in Arabic as I thought. Translated poetry is even more difficult for me to read, so this was a pleasant surprise. My second surprise was that it was not a collection of poetry, but one long poem, so that it’s almost like an epic poem or a novel in verse. This is also far easier to read!
I read the first part, just a couple pages, and then decided to check if my library had an audio version. I had a feeling that I would understand the book better – that I’d be able to hear the cant and rhythm better – if it was spoken aloud. I’m glad I checked, and I’m very happy that of the two copies in my library system, one was right down the street at my branch! Yay! Talk about great luck! As soon as the library opened, I went down and got the audiobook!
The Prophet essentially takes place in three segments, thought they aren’t equal segments. In the beginning, you learn of a man named Almustafa leaving a fictional city (Orphalese) that could exist in any country and in any time period. The people of the city come to say goodbye. The man wishes to give them something, but has nothing to give, so they ask him questions and he responds with wisdom. These questions and responses make up the second section, and in the last, the man gives a final speech in preparation for leaving.
The book was very interesting because it is filled with spiritual advice, but not religious advice. There is no one specific dogma, and the words can be used to bolster nearly any religion, including those like secular humanism or agnosticism. They speak of a divine god, but not of a specific God. They advocate respect, understanding, humility, balance, fairness, mercy, compassion, hard work, learning, and a good sense of self. In some ways, there were parts that read almost like a self-help book, but there was more wisdom to it than that, so that it didn’t feel silly like a self-help book might.
For someone like me, who struggles with faith vs spirituality, this was a wonderful book to read. I admit, I preferred the middle section, where with each question there was at least one quotable passage in the answer! The beginning and ending weren’t as good to me, but I adored that middle, which was the largest section. I’m also infinitely grateful for having the audio version, because like with most poetry, I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere near as much out of it if I’d read it directly. Perhaps I should try all my poetry this way!!
As for the performance, the narrator on this version of the audio is Paul Sparer. He is clear and precise, not too fast or too slow, and my only issue with the audio is that he sounded a bit like he was falling into mystical-preacher mode when reading. I imagine that with poetry, particularly spiritually-based poetry, it might be hard not to do that. I mean, much of the book read a lot like a sermon. Once I got used to his rhythm, I didn’t even notice it anymore. There were also some “Middle Eastern sounding” musical interludes which struck me as kind of silly, but I find most musical transitions pretty silly. No big deal. It’s a short audiobook – the unabridged version is less than 1.5 hrs long – so it was easy to fit into my afternoon.