Read A fantastic review by one of the fans of The Parrot and the Merchant:
Written by; Tania Khojasteh
The Parrot and the Merchant is a famous fable of true love and freedom written by thirteenth century Persian poet and philosopher, Mowlana Rumi, which has lived in the hearts and minds of Persians of all ages for centuries. Tiny Owl has now brought this wise and worldly love story to children and adults of the English speaking world in a unique way never done before. The book’s crafty translation of the fable invokes in all readers, young and old, philosophical questions about love, possession, and freedom. Its wildly colourful and magical illustrations by Marjan Vafaian have also added a clever and contemporary twist, transporting it from the ancient to the present, while creating thought-provoking controversy. Through her illustrations, Vafaian has for the first time since the thirteenth century, interpreted the ‘merchant’ in this story as a female trades-person, traveling and trading goods across Persia and India with her female-cast servants and entourage.
The lady merchant’s name is Mah Jahan in this unique children’s rendition, a Persian name meaning the most beautiful in the world. Mah Jahan, who travels far and wide to buy and sell goods, has a special love for collecting beautiful birds, whom she keeps in cages and chains, but takes good care of so they will not leave her. The illustrations in the book portray her as lavishly dressed in colourful cosmopolitan fabrics and patterns which demonstrate a sense of majesty in her. However, the shaded in images of her servants and exotic birds which surround her in the background interestingly leave the reader with a sinister and sad feeling, as if to reveal Mah Jahan’s ego behind the feathery and fairy-like clothes.
Of all her birds, Mah Jahan loves her parrot the most because he has learned to talk and she enjoys this very much. Perhaps in her mind, because the parrot has adapted his nature to humans, she believes he would be hers forever. One day, before her travels to India, our generous protagonist, asks her servants and favourite parrot what they want as gifts when she returns. The parrot asks Mah Jahan to tell his bird friends in India that he misses them and that this makes him sad. He also requests of her to ask them if they have any advice for him.
Mah Jahan, who is after all a loyal bird keeper, having finished buying and selling many goods in Indian cities, remembers her promise to her parrot. So she travels all the way to the Indian jungles to relay her bird’s message to the wild parrots there. Although the birds don’t reply to her in a human language she understands, one falls dead from a tree upon receiving her bird’s message of sadness.
When she returns home, Mah Jahan, hesitant but deciding to be truthful, tells her bird about what happened to the jungle bird upon receiving his message. Her parrot’s reaction to this news sets him free from Mah Jahan’s possession. And by freeing himself, teaches Mah Jahan a wise lesson about what it takes to ‘truly’ love, as she happily confesses on the last page of the book.
Children’s stories that ask philosophical and universal questions are a rare find. This wonderfully quaint and contemporary children’s book is a must not just for children, but adults with a passion for Rumi’s poetry, those collecting unique books and illustrations for all ages, and libraries and shops caring to have the best stories and narratives on their shelves.
Publisher: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd. (2015)
Illustrator: Marjan Vafaian
*Tania Khojasteh is the director at Über Tutors
To visit our bookstore please click here.
More about The Parrot and the merchant:
- Read David almond’s words about this book in the Guardian. Link
- A blog report about storytelling of this book at Belsize Library. Link
- A review by Carousel. Link
- A review by Jill Bennett. Link
- Learn about Marjan Vafaeian, illustrator of this book. Link
- A blog report of an event at Pimlico Library. Link
- Poetic side of Tiny Owl Publishing. Link
- the importance of introducing diversity to children. Link
- listen to this fantastic report of BBC Radio 4 about Rumi. Link