Monday, May 10, 2010

After the fall

Current book: The Satanic Verses
Pages read: 78 - 170

I forgot to update on Friday. Sorry about that. There wasn't anything interesting to say anyway. This weekend I made some delicious coconut basmati rice, though. Basically, you just cook basmati with half of your water replaced with coconut milk, throw in some ginger, cardamom, and cilantro, and wait for the amazing deliciousness that is the result. It's not strongly flavored, but it is, somehow, complete. I loved it.

In the world of literature, the plane that Saladin and Gibreel are on gets hijacked and they end up being held hostage for 110 days on a runway in the middle of nowhere. During that time, Gibreel has a series of nightmares in which he is the archangel Gibreel (Gabriel to you Judeo-Christians) and is responsible for passing the word of Allah on to Mohamed (whom Rushdie calls Mahound). During these dream sequences, he makes mistakes, such as telling Mahound that he should let the followers of Allah also worship three goddesses in order to increase the popularity of the religion. Mahound goes along with it, though he knows it's wrong, and then Gibreel changes his mind. This causes the government of Jalilah, the small city to which Mahound is trying to bring the word of Allah, to treat all the new Muslims disdainfully and abusively. (This part is also what is partially responsible for the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, since it implies that the prophet Mohamed sold out to false idols.) Anyway, so there's that part.

Other than having nightmares, Gibreel also spends his time annoying Saladin, who doesn't like him at all. They become sort of bizarre, uncomfortable friends as a result of nothing more than proximity and Gibreel's random affection for Saladin. Eventually, the hijackers fly the plane to London and blow it up in the air, and Gibreel and Saladin are miraculously saved from disaster, falling not to their deaths, but to safety on a beach in Britain. (How? No explanation. That's why it's magical realism.) During the fall, however, both men are transformed into supernatural creatures: Saladin into, basically, the devil, complete with horns, goat's legs, and a giant phallus, and Gibreel into an angel, with a halo and an awe-inspiring presence. (No wings, though, in case you were wondering.)

Rosa Diamond, an old British lady, finds the men and takes them into her home, where Saladin is soon arrested by the police, who think he's an illegal immigrant or a terrorist or both. Gibreel, though he clearly holds magical angel power over the policemen, doesn't intervene, nor is he arrested or even considered suspicious. Saladin is treated abominably, even though, in the true idiom of magical realism, nobody acknowledges the fact that it doesn't make any sense that he's a devil. Eventually, when the cops realize he is, in fact, a British citizen, they knock him unconscious so that they can claim they never treated him poorly at all, and he wakes up quite a bit later in a hospital. Gibreel lives with Rosa for a while, and discovers that she has an interesting and star-crossed history, mostly because of the fact that he relives parts of it, ostensibly because of his new-found angelic powers. After working through that history with her, and in so doing, becoming her lover for a brief time, he leaves to find Allie Cone, the English mountaineer he had previously fallen in love with in India.

Sound weird as hell? That's cause it is. I have to say, though, that this book is a lot easier to read the second time around. Knowing that it's magical realism makes a difference, it's true, but knowing the major plot points is actually even more helpful. The first time through I think I was just spending the whole time going, "What the hell is happening right now? Saladin's the devil? Gibreel is actually an angel? But also interacting with Mohamed? Wait, what?" Not having to do that this time makes it a great deal easier to appreciate the style and the underlying substance of what's going on. The section I read for today doesn't have a whole lot of message, however, other than the clear implications about the treatment of immigrants in Britian, so I'll save the analysis of Saladin and Gibreel's transformations until they're a little bit more integrated with the plot. I'll say this, though: things are not going to go well for Saladin. Looking like the devil - not particularly helpful in modern society.

1 comment:

  1. Rushdie is indeed a little difficult to read with his abrupt pauses and jumps. But it's worth the patience.

    I always look forward to the detective sense in Rushdie's books. They have the mystery and magic. A geeky blessing that i will take any day.

    I found Gibreel a character so fascinating, I ended up borrowing his name for a watermark.



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