Boy Without A Name Book CoverThis book based on a Sufi folk tale from the oral tradition of Afghanistan benefits from watercolour illustrations that extend the story well beyond its textual offering, which is full of holes.

  • Title: The Boy Without A Name
  • Author: Idries Shah
  • Illustrator: Mona Caron
  • Reading level: 5-8 years
  • Date published: 2000
  • Publisher: Hoopoe Books
  • Country: USA
  • Country printed in: Not disclosed
  • Eco-friendly Printing: None specified
  • This book bought from Wardah bookstore in Singapore

The story: The book says: “A Sufi teaching tale of a boy without a name who visits a wise man and acquires both a name and a wonderful dream.”

‘DREAM WORLD’

Illustrator Mona Caron wrote on her website: “Imagery was inspired by old photo essays on Afghanistan … The images’ aim, however, was to create a dream world to escape into.” I’d say Caron has succeeded in creating that ‘dream world’ landscape, which for me is the best part of this book. But it couldn’t save the story itself.

TOO MANY PLOT HOLES

The story is full of holes. When a boy is born a wise man shows up to tell his parents he is “a very, very important boy” and to not give him a name yet. The boy then goes many years without a name, with no explanation why it took that long. From the illustration, he’s probably at least five years-old before he gets a name from the wise man who “had never seen [him] before”. It was probably that too many years had passed and the wise man did not recognise the boy he first met as a baby, which makes me question his wisdom!

Unfortunately, we are never told why this boy is important. Further, the story then adds another big element quite out of the blue, with no context, background or conflict introduced – that of dreams that the wise man gives to the boy and his friend.

LONG SHELF LIFE

I bought this book in 2018 from an independent bookstore in Singapore that specialises in Islam- and Muslim-related publications. The book was first printed in hardback in 2000 and then again in paperback in 2007 and 2015. Kudos to the publisher for so successfully extending its commercial life despite the story’s too many plot holes. I’ve seen many parents skim books for their kids and purchase or borrow them based on how appealing the illustrations are to them and how the first couple of pages read. The book could certainly win you over in those respects.

The niche story origin translated into English could also be a point of appeal for Muslim families around the world who currently don’t have a wide selection of Islam-related stories for kids to choose from.