HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Prophet
Author and Illustrator: Kahlil Gibran
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, republished in 1995
Language level: 1 (but the pictures might be rated 5)
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Adults
Rating: 0 stars (not recommended)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet (published in 1923 by Borzoi Books, a division of Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York City, NY). “The Prophet” is Almustafa, called “the chosen and the beloved,” who has lived twelve yearsin the foreign city of Orphalese, and is now waiting for the ship that is to come and take him back to the isle of his birth. Just as the ship appears, all the men and women of the community, including the elders of the city and the priests and priestesses, come to say farewell. They ask him to stay, but he refuses. Then the local seeress named Almitra addresses him as “Prophet of God” and asks him to speak to them of love and then marriage. After this, others ask him to speak of various subjects, some lofty such as children, giving, and joy and sorrow, and others more mundane, such as eating and drinking, work, houses, and buying and selling. There are in fact a total of 26 short chapters in which “the Prophet” holds forth before he takes his leave. Kahlil Gibran was born Gubran Khalil Gibran to a Maronite Catholic family in the historic town of Bsharri in modern-day Lebanon, then part of the Ottoman Empire. His mother Kamila was the daughter of a priest. When his father was imprisoned for embezzlement, Kamila decided to follow her brother to the United States, settling in the South End of Boston, MA, then the second largest Lebanese-American community in the United States. Due to a clerical mistake at school, he was registered as Kahlil.
As a young man Gibran studied art and began a literary career. His first book for the Alfred A. Knopf publishing company, was The Madman in 1918, a slim volume of aphorisms and parables written in a Biblical-like cadence somewhere between poetry and prose. The Prophet is said to be an early example of “inspirational fiction” consisting of a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose. The book became especially popular during the 1960s with the American counterculture and New Age movements and continued popular among some of the baby-boomers of the 1970s. Much of Gibran’s writings seems based on Christianity, but his mysticism reveals a convergence of several other influences as well, including Islam, Sufism, Hinduism, and theosophy. To illustrate the synthetic, relativistic nature of Gibran’s theology, “the Prophet” says, “Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’” Of course, Jesus said, “You shall know THE truth” (John 8:32), and, “I am the way, THE truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Gibran followed The Prophet with The Garden of The Prophet, which narrates Almustafa’s discussions with nine disciples following his return after an intervening absence and was published posthumously in 1933. Gibran had died in New York City, NY, on April 10, 1931; the cause was determined to be cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis.
I would never have gone out and purchased this book myself. However, I have heard of it all my life. It is supposed to be a classic and a “spiritual masterpiece,” so when I found it in my father’s library after his death, I decided to keep it and read it, thinking that there might be something useful in it. My reaction is, “Ugh.” As far as I am concerned, it is mostly pantheistic nonsense. Someone might say, “It’s all Greek to me,” but since I took two years of Greek in college, if it were “all Greek” I might be able to make some sense of it. However, I can make no sense of this book, so I’ll just say it’s all gobblety-gook to me. The Chicago Post said that The Prophet “brings to one’s ears the majestic rhythm of Ecclesiastes.” Ecclesiastes I can understand; The Prophet I do not! This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing good in it. The ravings of a lunatic sometimes contain a kernel of truth. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. However, there is nothing of value that might be gained from The Prophet which can’t be learned a whole lot better by simply reading the Bible. Besides, ten of the twelve full-page drawings by the author are rather immodest and consist solely of nude figures. Of course, this is not surprising when you read what “the Prophet” says about clothes. “Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful. And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain. Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment.” Oh, by the way, even as simply “poetry” it just doesn’t do anything for me. It is not a book that I would recommend to anyone under any circumstances.