Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Satanic Verses

I'm a little more than half-way through Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. (I read Midnight's Children several years ago, and I also like his occasional editorials in the Washington Post or other newspapers.) Reading Rushdie is like walking through a colorful, crowded bazaar in a foreign city--beautiful, teeming with characters; everywhere a story, a joke, a heartbreak; brilliant and alien; and you know that for everything you are "getting," you're missing so much more. Published in 1989, the fatwa coming down very soon after, Verses is still a startling book.

It is in fact, particularly unnerving to read it now, when so much of it seems weirdly prescient--prophetic almost--though I imagine that Rushdie was merely looking around him at the time and understanding where it was all going as a part of the British-Indian community in Thatcherite England, living in the unusual limbo of East-West. The whole story unwinds from the event of an airliner being blown up by a suicide bomber (in this instance, Sikh) over England, en route to London. Fantastically, two of the passengers, both Indian, lapsed Muslims, actors--fall to earth and resume? assume? their roles as the Archangel Gibreel and Shaitan (Satan) to fight their ultimate battle out in, of course, London. The "tinted" community as one of the characters refers to the Pakistanis/Indians/Africans of London is ground zero of the battle, so to speak. Good vs. evil; immigrants vs. White Britain; unbelievers (of both races) vs. "good" Muslims; a suspect, torn-between-two-worlds community. It's a madhouse of a book, layered with meanings, interpretations and Allah-knows-what, so I can well-imagine the mullahs throwing up their hands and just deciding to take the guy out. He is also tremendously funny, loves to make jokes out of cliches, punning, irreverent, and earthy--with a capital E. I'm sure I'll have more to say about it after I'm finished. I should have been taking notes and plotting diagrams of the story--but it's way too entertaining for all of that.

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