There is an unwritten rule for post World War 2 literature, that every story must relentlessly cynical and dark; to write any other way would be at best hopelessly naive or at worst inauthentic. Because of this, modern authors cannot write unironically about subjects like love and heroism because to do so would go against the mandated nihilism of modernity.
Kahlil Gibran’s The Broken Wings was published in 1912, before the world wars, when it was still allowable to write about the transcendent. With his lyrical style, Gibran tells the romantic but tragic story of a young man who loses his true love through an arranged marriage. The story is most likely autobiographical from the author’s time in Lebanon during his youth, which adds to its poignancy.
The story itself is quite simple, with the unnamed narrator meeting the beautiful Selma,the two falling in passionate love, only to be separated by greed and social convention. But inserted between passages of the story are lengthy musings on the philosophy of love, like a modern Song of Solomon. It is pleasant to immerse oneself into, even as the story is infused with foreboding and sadness. You may find yourself reading paragraphs twice as you go along so that you can appreciate the proverbs that are seeded in. Through these musings. we feel the tempest the narrator feels, as his joy turns to sadness, as love that cannot be fulfilled becomes “the broken wings.” All of it has the ring of a troubadour’s poetry, with all the same themes are there, and is refreshing compared to the aforementioned relentless cynicism of modern literature.
Gibran draws upon Christianity and paganism, and probably Islam and Judaism as well, to illustrate the many facets of romantic love. One can see why Gibran’s writings are popular with those who are a bit less rigorous with their philosophy, but in this case it adds rather than subtracts, because young and passionate love often doesn’t make sense in a logical way.
Suspend your modern spell of disenchantment for a moment to read this book with a fresh mind, and you will catch a glimpse of something at once beautiful, tragic, and enlightening.