The novel-length fairytale The Unseen Blossom reminds me of the classic One Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights), which as a kid I read about, well, a thousand and one times. Like the classic, this novel has a love story at its heart. But unlike The Arabian Nights, this love story, drawing as it does from Sufi themes, is a vehicle for a visionary message. *
The Afghan-American writers behind this story, Zlaikha Y. Samad and L’mere Younossi, are first-time authors, two friends whose shared love and desire for peace in their ethnic homeland is the basis and inspiration for the story. Set in a fantasy realm within Afghanistan, The Unseen Blossom is the story of a quest to find the elusive and legendary fig tree blossom, which has the power to bring “everlasting love, peace, and harmony” to a nation. A princess and a shoemaker have been chosen to find this flower in order to bring peace to their war-torn country. They have a deadline, and must travel through a fantasy realm of gardens each with its own obstacles, in order to reach the blossom. As the adventure unfolds, we learn that the two young heroes are soulmates who have been connected since the beginning of time, and their quest to find the blossom is only the beginning of their shared journey and destiny.
In the biographical note at the start of the book, we are told that the idea for the story came from L’mere Younoussi, who had always been intrigued by the fact that the fig tree produces fruit and yet never blossoms. This created the premise of the legend for the story, in the form of a question: “Have you ever seen a fig tree blossom?”
In real life, we will never see a fig tree blossom (or at least not the spring-time kind we normally think of). In fact the fig fruit itself is an inverted flower. This aspect of its nature is mentioned later in the book, with a thought-provoking spiritual explanation. And as a quest item, the idea of a fig blossom is a unique and beautiful symbol with universal appeal – neither East nor West.
Readers would be forgiven for thinking the book was crafted by seasoned writers. While technically written for young adults it reads like a literary novel. Descriptions of the gardens through which our protagonists travel are intricate and written poetically. The romance between the leads is innocent but believable. The emphasis is on emotion rather than action. Despite being set in a war-torn country, there is no violence as such and in fact since much of the story takes place within the fantasy realm, there is also a kind of disconnect from the real world. We never quite feel that this story is set in the modern era, except when we are reminded of the fact once or twice in passing. Some readers may feel there is too much stopping to smell the roses in the detailed descriptions of the gardens, but as an act of world-building for a visionary novel, this is done to wonderful effect and allows the writers to make some profound visionary statements naturally within the flow of a scene. These include at least one direct reference to the connection between love and the unlocking of human potential, and several statements imploring humanity to protect and nurture the environment on earth and perhaps beyond.
The twist at the end of the novel too is faithful to the visionary genre, but for sake of not giving away any spoilers, I say no more. Needless to say, this Eastern fairytale is recommended to readers of all ages and cultures – and as it happens, I have just learned that a sequel to The Unseen Blossom is already in the works. I look forward to reading it.
* This is not to say that the individual tales of The Arabian Nights do not contain visionary elements, but the central story is not visionary in my view.