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Publication > 11.1 Book Layout

Jezik ptica (Language of the Birds)

by Hamper studio

The first Croatian translation of Language of the Birds (original title Mantiq al-tair), 12th century mystical sufi poem by Farid ud-Din Attar (Nishapur, Persia). It is an allegorical story, which represents the quest of Sufism, a mystical teaching based on searching for the Truth/the Absolute.
The Story: The symbolism is a key component of the poem. The birds travel to search their true king – the Simurgh. Birds represent men who pursue Sufi path – each bird represents a fault which prevents humankind from achieving enlightenment. The hoopoe is a Sufi master and the Simurgh represents Divine. To get to Simurgh, birds (led by Hoopoe) have to cross seven valleys (Quest; Love; Knowledge; Detachment; Unity; Wonderment; Poverty and Annihilation).
Structure: The poem is composed in Masnavi format – it is written in rhyming couplets. Masnavi’s structure consists of an introduction (Invocation), the main body of the story and an epilogue. Due to its narrative structure, the story composed in this style is meant to be read through, as the context clarifies the meaning (allegories). The poem is consisted of more than 4500 rhymed couplets. It has over 170 allegories, some short and some very long. After them, there are 7 valleys, which represent initiatory aspect of the journey or the Path.
Brief: Most of modern editions of the poem are either too academic (strict and dense layout, full of notes, no aesthetic aspect and heavy to read) or too decorative (designed as if it was a fairytale, the narrative aspect prioritised over mystic which leads to loss of Sufi tradition of the poem).
Aesthetic of design should be close to the worldview and the philosophy behind the poem (authentic teaching is very sensitive and it should be treated with care and patience in design). At the same time, client wanted a modern approach to bring the old allegorical Sufi text to the contemporary reader.
Challenge: The main challenges were (1) art direction of the old, mystic, eastern poem and its structure which has multidimensional context (spiritual, historical, symbolical), and (2) adaptation of the content for the contemporary western reader while avoiding most common approaches – too academic or too decorative.
Solution: The complexity of the project and its historical and cultural significance demanded long preparation which included detailed research of historical and spiritual background of this masterfully, multilayered and timeless work (the story, structure of the narrative and writing style, spiritual context, philosophy of Sufism, Persian art and history, calligraphy, oriental symbolism…).
The reader-friendly layout finds its foothold in the novel-like book format/proportions (avoiding the heavy monographic approach).
Typographical layout is a direct reference to the original structure of the poem, with respect to its basic organisation (rhymed couplets). Contemporary editorial interventions (for example, division to chapters and titles of the allegories) are treated equally as side notes (comments) – they are positioned in the left margin of the page. This is also a reference to traditional layout of capital religious texts like Bible or Quran.
Typographical layout finds its visual balance and compositional integrity through an interaction with the content structure of the poem and the narrative decoration of authentic illustrations and calligraphy from 15th century manuscript of the poem.

  • Creative Directors Ivana Vučić
  • Art Directors Tom-Jura Kaćunić
  • Designers Ivana Vučić, Tom-Jura Kaćunić
  • Illustrators Habiballah of Sava, Persia, 16th/17th century (cover illustration, p. 36, 44, 108, 296); Kamal ud-Din Behzad, Herat, Timrud empire 15th/16th century (p. 116, 226), all illustrations c The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Tom-Jura Kaćunić (ornaments, title-page graphic pattern)
  • Photographers
  • Editors Nataša Ozmec
  • Copywriters
  • Layout Ivana Vučić, Tom-Jura Kaćunić, Radovan Radičević
  • Research Zrinka Kolarić
  • Print Kerschoffset Zagreb
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