Skousen, “Zafir and the Seventh Scroll” (reviewed by Elizabeth White)


Title: Zafir and the Seventh Scroll
Author: Paul B. Skousen
Publisher: Izzard Ink Publishing, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 262 pages
Binding: softbound
ISBN13: 978-1-53998-358-3
Price: $15.95

Reviewed by Elizabeth White for the Association for Mormon Letters

A flashlight. That is what Henri needs to probe a little further into a secret compartment he found during his rounds as a nighttime caretaker at the history museum. His curiosity is rewarded by another scroll. The scroll opens up to reveal ancient wisdom that has been concealed through the ages. As it is read through Henri’s eyes, the ancient saga of Bassam and his adventures begins to unfold, or rather, unroll.

Author Paul Skousen has crafted a young adult series beginning in “Bassam and the Seven Secret Scrolls” which follows Bassam through adventures and misadventures with a desert caravan to an ending that leaves Henri and the reader anticipating more. Skousen uses his extensive life experience and knowledge about Asia to engage readers once again. Henri returns to the sarcophagus to see if there might be another scroll and to his delight, there is.

This book, “Zafir and the Seventh Scroll,” is the continuation of those adventures as found by Henri the curious on the second scroll. Bassam’s record starts with an immediate crisis, waking in the desert after a fight with desert bandits and needing to travel alone to rejoin his caravan. He has lost contact with almost everything he values — his mentor, his mentor’s beautiful daughter, his camel — and needs to rely on his own strength and skill to survive in a harsh and unforgiving land.

Bassam is able to learn the secrets of the scrolls as well as other wisdom his mentor has prepared for him. There are many other characters in the story that give Basaam direction and guidance on topics as varied as: how to determine value in negotiations, how to build a trade network, how to be a leader people want to follow, how to treat a wife, how to achieve prosperity and what is even more important than doing so, how to catch a fish, how to dress and treat a wound, how to repair a ship’s mast, and perhaps most importantly, how and why to wear a tassel. Much of the advice and experience is applicable and relevant to our modern culture. There are sections that I want to go back and reread to absorb more of the timeless wisdom.

I jumped into the series in the second book and, having done that, I highly recommend starting with volume one. I was a little lost while figuring out the characters and why they interacted the way they did. One example is Bassam’s friend, Kalila, the young woman who travelled with the caravan and would steal the men’s clothes while they slept and then drop the clothes in boiling pots of water.

Since this story chronicles Bassam’s journey through a continent, a sub-continent, at least two major river systems and two oceans, I appreciated the outline map. Learning more about Asian cultures, particularly the Chinese and Indian, was one of the reasons I wanted to read “Zafir and the Seventh Scroll.” Reading the story just for the culture would be enjoyable enough, but the additional insights of learning to understand yourself and others would make this a great book for young adult literature classes and book groups, as well as reading on your own.

Since I was unfamiliar with the Asian spellings and pronunciations, I would have benefited from a brief pronunciation guide in the back of the book.

The action definitely picks up in the second half of the book, so if that is what you want, just keep reading, it is coming. This second volume is full of warmth, humor, life wisdom, and shows that people can show courage and greatness throughout their lives even though they have flaws and make mistakes. Book two closes with Henri, the museum employee who found the first two scrolls, hunting for the next one. Now I am eager to start the series with the first volume, “Bassam and the Seven Secret Scrolls,” and read the books in order. I am hoping that the third volume, “The Search for Rasha” (spoiler: Rasha is the far away sweetheart) will be released very early in 2017 so I can find out what happens.

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