This sharp debut from O’Dell, a professor at Sichuan University–Pittsburgh Institute in China, examines the role of Islam in the writings of 13th-century poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi. Lamenting that Western appropriations of the poet “have often stripped his poems of their religious references and spiritual richness,” she explores how Islamic mysticism permeates Rumi’s writings and outlook. She offers close readings of Rumi’s poems and traces their recurring Sufic themes of “abstaining from the desires of the body” and working to overcome personal imperfections. Placing the poetry in historical context, O’Dell suggests that Rumi’s wandering spirit may have stemmed from fleeing Mongol invasions in his youth and that his tolerance toward diverse religious traditions may have resulted from his exposure to numerous faiths during his travels. Peppered throughout the textual analysis are stories from O’Dell’s time as a dervish apprentice in Istanbul, where she spent 40 days under the spiritual tutelage of a Sufi master memorizing the 99 names of God, learning to “whirl” in worship, and making Turkish coffee for fellow devotees. The author’s personal anecdotes usefully illustrate what Rumi’s spirituality looks like in contemporary practice, and the historical context opens up fresh ways of looking at the poet’s works. This makes for an excellent primer on Rumi. (July)
From the Publisher
"A transcendent love, adorned with poetry and music, and embellished with the transformative power of sorrow: this is the gift of Rumi, which O’Dell surmises as ‘a map for living virtuously and loving fiercely in the midst of suffering.’ . . . It is this same gift, with hands stretched out generously, that Rumi deigns to offer us; we would be wise to accept it."
—Sydney Review of Books
"In the crowded shelf of books about Rumi, there are a few books about Rumi's life, and an increasing number that are or purport to be translations from the original Persian. E.J. O'Dell's The Gift of Rumi is both: It gives the right amount of context for people new to the study of Rumi, combined with original and fresh translations. The Gift of Rumi is indeed a gift, and recommended to all lovers of Rumi!"
—Omid Safi, Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University; Founder of Illuminated Courses and Tours
"Emily Jane O’Dell meets Rumi on his own terms, placing his compelling verses of ecstasy and of longing for the heart’s greater intimacy with the divine within the contexts of historical Islamic mysticism, while at the same time testifying to their enduring value “as a map for living virtuously and loving fiercely.” This book is far more than another collection of Rumi’s poems in translation; it explores the tenets underlying these poems while at the same time opening fascinating vistas onto two remarkable lives – those of Rumi and of the author."
—John Emigh, Professor Emeritus, Brown University
"This is an astonishing book. It tips rigorous scholarship, benevolent sympathy, and personal experience into the cauldron of Rumi's poetry for the reader to then gradually withdraw a silken brew of spiritual compassion, guidance, and understanding. It gives us in the West intriguing new translations, but also a usable pathway toward adopting Rumi as a mentor for living in today's world."
—Harold Augenbraum, Co-Founder, Yale Translation Initiative
"Personal, inspiring, and transporting, The Gift of Rumi is one part memoir, one part introduction to a great poet sage, and itself a gift."
—Gish Jen, author of Thank You, Mr. Nixon
"[A] sharp debut...The author’s personal anecdotes usefully illustrate what Rumi’s spirituality looks like in contemporary practice, and the historical context opens up fresh ways of looking at the poet’s works. This makes for an excellent primer on Rumi." —Publisher's Weekly
"[A] fully realized introduction to the Sufi way that Rumi actually taught, and, and this is so wonderful, what we can access today. Through his writings. And through his spiritual heirs....Do yourself a favor. Buy it. Do yourself another favor. Read it." — Patheos