by Salman Rushdie
New York: Knopf, 2010.
A review in isn’ts.
I read this book and thought immediately about how I would write up my review by beginning with the statement that while I get a bit impatient with Rushdie’s fiction, I love his non-fiction. “Imaginary Homelands” is one of my favourite essays of all time. I would then quote from it the passages that I’d highlighted in my many readings of the essay, tell you all how he speaks for me and my peripatetic childhood, rave about how wonderful it is when an author can tell you something about yourself.
That isn’t going to happen. I lost the damn book. The damn precious book. I know it’s on the shelves here somewhere, but I can’t find it anywhere.
So, to Luka.
Here’s the thing: I don’t want say too much about the plot because I liked it, but I felt that the reviews I’d read had spoiled the plot for me. They gave too much away. This post isn’t going to do that.
I read several reviews in book review pages, and I hurried to read Rushdie’s latest because it’s a book by a dad for his son, about a dad and his son, and I just love the gesture.
In this book, Luka has to travel to the World of Magic in order to save his father, the storyteller Rashid Khalifa. Something of a sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which was written for Rushdie’s eldest son, this book is for his youngest son, Milan, pictured with Rushdie above, and the narrator refers explicitly to sibling rivalry: rivalry between both brothers and books.
Rushdie has so much fun with words. Here is Nobodaddy, Luka’s sinister guide, when Luka has difficulty in believing that they are really going to the World of Magic:
Just a story? … Only a tale? My ears must be deceiving me. … You of all boys should know that Man is the Storytelling Animal, and that in stories are his identity, his meaning, and his lifeblood. Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants ele-phantasize? You know as well as I do that they do not. Man alone burns with books. (34)
Nobodaddy looks a lot like Luka’s father, who is also, of course, Rushdie himself, and I was reminded of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, in which a parallel world exists where the protagonist’s parents are played by sinister look-alikes. Luka also has the amazing presence of mind and groundedness that Gaiman’s child protagonists have.
Despite knowing too much of the plot ahead of time, I found this a very cleverly plotted book. It is also an impassioned tribute to and argument in favour of imagination, creativity and narrative, written and oral. It is a book about the magic and power of books and stories, about how that power can wax and wane. When Luka arrives at the Heart of Magic, he notices that the world is in a state of disrepair. The Insultana of Ott (ha!) explains,
Magic is fading from the universe…. We aren’t needed anymore, or that’s what you all think, with your High Definitions and your low expectations. One of these days you’ll wake up and we’ll be gone, and then you’ll find out what it’s like to live without even the idea of Magic. (132)
While I got a bit impatient with Rushdie’s narrator, I found Luka very endearing. He’s an able adventurer, clever and humble. The ending to the story isn’t ever seriously in question, but he gets us there in wonderful style.