The Clouds Beyond Us, written by Rahf Al-Rashidi, is a mysterious book. It’s an anthology of reflections, stories and poems written by somebody who thinks a lot, feels a lot and cares a lot. Just like clouds, the content of this book varies heavily, but is yet unified by a common simplicity, beauty, and spirituality.
To be honest, I’m not even sure if this book is suited for a book review because of how varied and mysterious it is. The book contains no introduction, no author’s biography and no epilogue. It is, just like clouds, a floating mass, beautified by it’s variety.
I think this is part of the charm of this book, and why I enjoyed it so much. When I saw the title and the cover, a captivating skyline viewed through a plane window, I was drawn to it. Similar to the author, I am infatuated by the sky, it’s serenity, mystery and grandeur. I was thus strongly drawn to it, the mystery and serenity only reinforced by how little I was able to find out about the book and the author. This mystery would also serve to potentially silence any preconceived notions that may cloud my experience of the book (excuse the pun). This also meant that the book was always fun to think about, long after I had read it.
After having read the book, I would love to ‘solve’ the mystery of the book by speaking with the author. Though, I suspect there is no solution here; in my mind the book is life’s myriad scenarios viewed through the lateral and soulful reflections of the author. Were Rahf to write this book say 10 years earlier or later, the content of the book would probably ponder over a different set of incidents, or the same but with renewed hindsight – again, varying just like the clouds.
Regarding the content, as has already been mentioned earlier, it morphs from wise words on appreciating the complexity of producing a cup of coffee, to harrowing stories of heartbreak and even sexual abuse. The reflective pieces on inspiration and drive make for light and captivating reading. These drew me in because of their brevity (never longer than a few pages) and also the lightness of how they read. Descriptions are brief, accessible, and full of eloquence.
The thoughts conveyed are of a similar quality, reflecting a simple spirituality. God, His Plan, His Wisdom, and the beauty of the created human are themes that permeate strongly throughout. These are touching reflections, which show the potency of such ideas in fermenting the human ability to perceive and behave. This light and pervasive spirituality is reminiscent of Paulo Coelho’s books (which Rahf notes that she saw somebody reading one in an airport). One clear similarity between Rahf and Paulo’s reflections is on omens (taking the form of ‘Dreams Syndrome’ in Rahf’s book). Maybe it’s an omen that I had very recently read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, that I’ve never known of Coelho before this, and that my sister’s friends had got her the book for her birthday many years ago, and somehow it landed on my bookshelf. Quite a peculiar string of events.
Such a string of events in my head is no coincidence. It is God’s Plan. I would precisely be able locate this kind of thinking in Islamic scripture (‘Allah is the Best of Planners’, ‘Let the Believers put their trust in God’ etc.). This is the source of my thinking.
And this leads me onto what I would love to have seen in The Clouds Beyond Us: Rahf’s worldview, or specifically, the wider edifice in which her spirituality operates. I don’t believe notions of God’s plan, His wisdom etc. can exist in limbo; they need to be anchored and rooted within a wider religious discourse which establishes it’s veracity. Seeing this wider nest (if it exists) that Rahf has in her head would be very interesting; what worldview have her experiences crafted? How does this mesh with what Rahf has believed prior to these experiences? Would society benefit to ponder over such beliefs? These are just a few questions that I would be very interested to find out. I should be clear, I don’t mean this as a criticism of the book, such questions may well intentionally have been omitted so as to preserve the wide applicability of spirituality.
I haven’t said much by means of criticism, because I genuinely struggle with criticising it. It isn’t a conventional book. It’s lack of structure and general mystery vivify it, but in other books this would be a weakness. I can only say that I would love to read more of Rahf’s short, sweet and poignant writing. It is a unique book, featuring writing that is smooth and silky, flowing like sand through one’s fingers. It’s themes and content are wise, thought-provoking and varied. In this sense, The Clouds Beyond Us lives up to it’s name, for the book has the mysterious beauty and sophistication of the clouds beyond us.
The Clouds Beyond Us – Rahf AlRashidi
A beautiful and eclectic mix of stories and poetry, as presented by new and exciting author Rahf AlRashidi. This collection of insights into the author’s soul takes the reader on a melancholy journey of loss, heartache and ill treatment, whilst at once telling the story of strength and showing the joy to be found in the aftermath of sorrow. An inspirational read for women across the world.