Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shame about the fatwa.

Current book: The Satanic Verses
Pages read: 3 - 78

Full disclosure: I have read this before. I read it for a class in grad school called "Urban Literature," which was taught by a British guy of Indian descent. One might think, since it deals with India and Britain, that he would have had interesting insights about it. It's possible that he did; I, however, remember not even a single word that he said in that class. (You have no idea how obnoxious he was.) I was hoping, though, that I'd still have response papers floating around about the novel, but it seems that I chose to avoid writing about it. That means I can't recycle them and pass them off as blog posts. (Which I would never do. It would be wrong.)

Anyway, so this book is about two men from India, their relationship, and the various things that happen to them both during the same nondescript period of time. Gibreel Farishta is a Bollywood actor who has met with great success playing Hindu gods, regardless of the fact that he is Muslim, and has also, during his career, become quite the womanizer. (Can I just say that I really don't like that word? It implies "one who creates women," right? So, either we're saying "one who creates women out of girls" (i.e. takes their virginities) or we're saying "one who makes women more womanly by having sex with them." Either way, go ahead and imagine that I'm making enraged sounds.) One of his favorite mistresses was Rekha, whom he found fascinating because she created a dramatic fuss every time he left her. He has abandoned her, however, for Allie Cone, an English mountaineer, with whom he falls in love after he is stricken with a mysterious illness and, as a result, loses his faith in religion. Shortly after he briefly meets Allie, Gibreel abandons his life and movie career to chase after Allie, and flies to London to do so.

Saladin Chamcha is an actor in London who mostly does voice-overs and costumed or made-up roles because of his race. He has forsaken his Indian identity to try to make himself as British as possible, and has settled in London and married an Englishwoman. He and his father are estranged, though his father paid for his English education. He recently made a trip back to India, where he met Khadija, who tried to convince him to stay and embrace his Indian self. After a failed attempt to reconcile with his father, during which he discovered his father was dressing up one of their servants as his late wife (and Khadija took his father's side on the matter), he abandons any thought of living in India and gets back on a plane to London. It is, of course, the same plane that Gibreel is on. The plot will thicken. I promise.

So, I know I disliked Midnight's Children, the very first book on the list, which was also by Rushdie, but I think The Satanic Verses is actually quite a brilliant novel. I've got the perspective of having read it before, of course, so I'm able to reconcile events later in the novel with the style here at the beginning, but I can't say that I had any trouble continuing to read it the first time, either. The magical realism and amorphous timeline that were frustratingly choppy and rough-hewn in Midnight's Children have been honed by Rushdie's growth as an author in this novel. Instead of being confusing and obnoxious, they have become intriguing and surprising. It's largely due to his inclusion of a strong narrative voice, never identified as a particular character, that consistently offers commentary on the plot events. That voice is rational but emotionally involved, omniscient but humanly flawed, and almost parochially Indian in its diction but quite cosmopolitan in its analysis. It is, frankly, a triumph of nuanced, complex literary style.

Anyway, I'll stop, because I should try to hold off on the analysis of what's to come until I actually get to it.

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