It is the late ''70s in Manhattan and God is dead. A group of people come together to explore the void left behind. New York mongrels of the spiritual, as brash and defiant as their chaotic, bankrupt city, they embark on what seems like a journey described in the 12th century Persian poem that gives this powerful novel its title.
Among them are the shy and sweet-natured Bobby, a gifted cartoonist and the group''s mascot; Maisie, the acid-tongued rich girl who is fighting a two-front war against mental instability and Hodgkin''s disease; the narrator Louie, a very nearly accidental pilgrim torn between his friends and the purpose that has engulfed him; and their austere leader Joe, a saint to some, a pervert to others.
An ordinary, half-finished loft in downtown Manhattan is the scene of the group''s last, harrowing efforts to make sense of the words of the ancient Persian poem that seem to mock them: "Thirty birds set out on a perilous journey to reach the Mighty Simurgh, whose name means thirty birds." Is it self-discovery they seek, or oblivion? As thoroughly as any in recent fiction, the characters of The Conference of the Birds take the measure of a de-stabilized age, and wring from it not only tragedy, but dignity.
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