Whether it’s a testimony to my cultural isolation or Penguin Press’s marketing prowess, I learned about “The Conference of the Birds”, the new book by Petr Sís (Peter Sis), on All Things Considered during last Wednesday’s evening commute. By a stroke of luck, I met Petr, a Czech émigré living in the U.S. since 1982, only five days later during his book-tour stop here in Portland, Oregon.
In his presentation Monday at Powell’s City of Books, Peter gave a whirlwind tour of the book’s origins and story, of his life/career to date, and of his personal philosophy. The only thing missing was a stein of Budvar to accompany the tales.
Peter Sis’s work has woven an award-winning, if understated, thread through the American culture. Though he’s best known for illustrations of children’s books (the latest book is lauded as his first for adults), his resume includes a Bob Dylan video, New York subway posters, murals, illustrations for the New York Review of Books and other publications, and painted eggs.
“All of my books are about going from one place to another,” Peter said, as he led the audience from his childhood to “The Conference of the Birds”. A major theme in his work that speaks to me and American Robotnik: stories “about people leaving home, discovering things” and “leaving walls behind”.
The book itself left me breathless. It follows a quest of a flock of birds, led by a hoopoe bird, to find the true king who knows all the answers to world’s problems. If you think, “a picture book” or “a comic book” and expect a fast read because illustrations fill its pages and text is kept to a bare minimum, you”ll be disappointed and miss the book’s entire point. You can experience “The Conference of the Birds” not through reading, but through immersion. It is, indeed, a journey, and one you will want to take over and over, to peel off all its layers and discover the truth at the core: “We are the birds.”
Despite the price differential between Powell’s sticker price of $27.95 and Amazon’s $18.91, last night “The Conference of the Birds” flew off the shelf at the venue. It shows one of several ways forward for the physical book as such: toward becoming a beautiful and somewhat pricey keepsake object, of which you have few but of which each is a meaningful chapter in the story of your life. “The Conference of the Birds” is certainly to be cherished, both as an artifact and as a deep experience.
Peter was gracious enough to agree to an interview for American Robotnik. Stay tuned!
Word from the Publisher
Celebrated children’s book author and illustrator Peter Sís creates his first book for adults, a beautiful and uplifting adaptation of the classic twelfth-century Sufi epic poem, The Conference of the Birds. In this lyrical and richly illustrated story of love, faith, and the meaning of it all, Peter Sís shows the pain, and beauty, of the human journey.
American Robotnik’s Bookrating
- Book: Peter Sis, “The Conference of the Birds”, New York: The Penguin Press, 2011
- Lowdown: Enjoy “The Conference of the Birds” in your quiet, alone time. In fact, heed Peter’s suggestion to read the book lying under a tree on a nice day…listening to birds chirp and fly overhead.
- Grade: A+