Burl's Reviews > O N C E : Ask Me Anything, Not Love

O N C E  by Mian Mohsin Zia
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Apr 15, 2010

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Read in April, 2010

It is related that one day they came upon Majnun sifting the dust, and his tears flowing down. They said, "What doest thou?" He said, "I seek for Layli." They cried, "Alas for thee! Layli is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!" He said, "I seek her everywhere; haply somewhere I shall find her."

The true seeker hunteth naught but the object of his quest, and the lover hath no desire save union with his beloved. Nor shall the seeker reach his goal unless he sacrifice all things. That is, whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit...

(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 6)


ONCE This second novel by Mian Mohsin Zia mixes elements of attraction, obsession, selfishness, control and sacrifice in what is almost a compelling multi-level riff on the entire love story genre. Our protagonist is an author who will never write a love story. He, of course, writes a love story because he "falls in love" -- or at least thinks he is in love. And that is part of the compelling nature of ONCE -- the love struck narrator knows nothing of love. For all his tears and obsession, it is all about him, and love itself is a mere plot device.

So lovesick is he, he can't write; his fans await him -- he is Majnun seeking Layli in the dust of his own heart. The potentially powerful ending (no spoiler here) is somewhat weakened by the narrator attempting to tell the reader the moral of the story -- something no author would do in real life, or in a "real book." Mian is an author with a future -- hopefully one with a mainstream publishing house.

His talent is authentic, his future bright. This could be a three-hankie tear jerker movie, and Mian could evolve into a powerful literary talent. I admire Mian's dedication, zeal, talent and ability to self-promote out of love for his message rather than self-aggrandizement. The story is powerful, the narrator believable, the ending makes perfect sense in light of all that has gone before, and the main character tells us what he's learned. Personally, I wish he had kept his "lesson" to himself.

I am reminded of a true story told to me years ago by Lois Willows, a dear woman in Beverly Hills who held meetings in her home every Wednesday night for 30 years where she proclaimed the Oneness of God, the Oneness of Relgion, and the Oneness of all mankind. A Christian woman came to the meeting, and her heart was moved by the message of love, inclusion and equalty. She wondered, however, if Jesus would approve. "Pray about it," advised Lois. "Ask Jesus for confirmation." The following day the woman showed up at Lois' home to share an amazing story: She prayed with all her heart, and that night Jesus appeared to her in a dream. He was holding a large fresh fish. "Here," said Jesus. "This is fresh and new and I want you to have it"

"Well," said Lois, "Your prayer was answered. Jesus wants you to have this fresh spiritual food. He is replying to your question."

The woman looked at lois quizzically and replied. "Huh? I think Jesus is jsut telling me to eat more fish."

The "lesson" the woman "learned" from her dream was far less than what others would glean, and so it is with ONCE. The narrator believes he has learned something, and shares his lesson. Oh, would that Mian had restrained his pen, silenced his narrator, and allowed the reader to glean a lesson of their own.

This novel is a labor of love about the myths of love and attraction, self and selfishness, sacrifice, longing and self -loathing. This is a book about a man who doesn't know love, and proves it right up to the final page. Ask him anything, but not love.

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