Thursday, May 20, 2010

Positive reinforcement

Current book: The Satanic Verses
Pages read: 463 - 561 (end)

I love how it's easy to tell when I get tired of something, because I start to read it really fast and keep speeding through it until I get to the end. With some books, that means the entire thing. With others, I make it 400 pages or so and then start, metaphorically, to look at my watch. Imagine Sonic the Hedgehog when you let him stand around too long, tapping his foot and sighing at you. It's like that. (Oh, dear. I believe I may have just dated myself.)

Anyway. To the increasingly politically charged atmosphere of the immigrant neighborhoods of London, Gibreel and his trumpet act as a catalyst to the eruption of riots and arson. It is unclear whether Gibreel really has the power to cleanse evil with his trumpet, through some kind of fiery magic, or if he and his trumpet simply trigger others to set fires, but in the end, much of the neighborhood is burned and the police are forced to invade. Pamela and Joshi end up dying in one of the fires, and Saladin almost does, but at the last second, Gibreel arrives to save him.

Then there's a little pause. (I guess we'd call it an intercalary chapter. I learned that term in Junior English in high school when we were reading The Grapes of Wrath. Remember that whole damn chapter about a turtle crossing a dusty road? Well, I do. You don't forgot that kind of agonizing boredom. However, you also don't forget the literary term you learned because of it. So I forgive you, Steinbeck. I guess.) Before more real world, we finally get to the conclusion of the butterfly-girl, Ayesha's, pilgrimage story. The pilgrimage does make it to the Arabian Sea, though many die on the way, and Saeed follows all the way in his car. They walk into the sea and it does not, visibly, seem to part for them, but several witnesses who followed them into the ocean say that far out, they saw the waters recede and the pilgrims walk across the seabed unharmed. Saeed, who also followed them into the sea, says he saw no such thing, and is left mourning his dead wife.

Back in reality, Gibreel goes to India and resumes his film career, and Saladin, recuperating, gets the news that his estranged father is dying of cancer in India. He goes immediately there to see him, and they reconcile before his father dies. He also reconciles with Zeeny, the girl he fell in love with on his first trip. (Whom, in my summary, I accidentally called Kadija. My mistake, but I sort of have an excuse. In the book, Zeeny did have a friend called Kadija, and I once taught a class in which there were two girls named Kadija and Zeeny, who were friends and sat next to each other. I think it influenced my recall in this matter.) Saladin decides to stay in India, partly because he now owns his father's property there, but also because of how London has treated him. After a while, Allie Cone, who has permanently broken things off with Gibreel, comes to India to launch another expedition to Everest. (I did mention that she was a mountaineer, but not that she'd climbed Everest in the past. Sorry.) Gibreel, hearing that she's returned, finds her with Sisodia (it's only by pure chance that the two are together at the time) and kills them both in a psychotic rage, convinced that they're sleeping together. He visits Saladin afterward, for what reason it's unclear, but tells him that it was the memory of Saladin's manipulations (which Gibreel still does not know were really Saladin) back in London that drove Gibreel to commit the crimes. Then he shoots himself. The end.

Fun times, huh? It's a good novel, though it seems completely insane in the summaries. And it does, in fact, have completely insane moments. It also, however, says a great deal about religion, race, immigration, identification with one's homeland, and modern society. They are complex issues, it muses, and there is no right answer to any of them. We have to consider the events that happen to us both in the real world and in the imaginative world. Sometimes things that seem miraculous happen, and we have choices about how to deal with them. Perhaps, to ignore the philosophical world that underlies them, to ignore the emotions that they raise in us, is to invite our own doom. But to go too far in the other direction and accept them at face value is to do the same. Somewhere in the middle of those extremes lie life and all the decisions that must accompany the living of it. Rage and revenge are easy to embrace, and forgiveness harder. Suspicion and escapism are again, easy, but reconciliation and the act of working for the betterment of that which is important, are also, again, harder.

Rushdie's narrative is so complex and well-crafted, his diction so vibrant and real, and his message, in the end, so compelling, that I can't help but say it's a great work of literature. I am not only willing to grant it a place on the list, but also state, with certainty, that it should remain there. (I still don't like magical realism. But see how mature I am, putting in on the list even though the style is not my personal preference? I want points for that! Someone give me a gold star!)

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