IMAGINARY HOMELANDS is a collection of Salman Rushdie's writings from 1981 to 1991. They include essays, book reviews, interviews, and random musings dating from the beginning of his popularity after his novel MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN until the third anniversary of the death fatwa pronounced on him by the Ayatollah Khomeini for his book THE SATANIC VERSES.
As with any collection of essays, IMAGINARY HOMELANDS is inconsistent and not every essay will interest every reader. However, there's sure to be a lot of gems here for fans of Rushdie. The literary legacy of the 1980's is quickly being erased from the popular memory, and readers today are forgetting the output of that underappreciated decade. There are reviews here range from one of Graham Greene's last novels to physics superstar Stephen Hawking's A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME. Reading IMAGINARY HOMELANDS today is important to refresh one's knowledge of the 1980's from a literary standpoint. Also, Rushdie proves himself again a man deeply troubled by oppression. He often mentions Pakistan's ruthless US-supported General Zia, and in "A Conversation with Edward Said" deals with the issue of Palestinian identity. His review of V.S. Naipaul's "Among the Believers", a journal of travels through the new Islamic states that sprung up in the 80's, and his two essays on the reaction of Muslims to THE SATANIC VERSES are helpful works to read in this time when dealing with Islamic extremism is such a driving force in international relations. Critics have often found Salman Rushdie hard to classify, wondering if he is an Indian or British writer, or a "Commonwealth" novelist, and Rushdie confronts the madness of classifying everything in "There Is No Such Thing As Commonwealth Literature".
If you enjoyed greatly the wry irony of THE SATANIC VERSES and other Rushdie novels, IMAGINARY HOMELANDS may interest you. While it won't engage the average reader, fans of Rushdie will get a lot out of this collection.
on February 10, 1999
This is a insightful companion to Rushdie's novels. After reading Midnight's Children, the many essays in Imaginary Homelands explained a great deal to me about Rushdie's passions and blind spots.
Sure, there are some howlers in here, and Rushdie even admits as much in the intro. He trashes George Orwell and Jane Austen for their detachment from contemporary events, and then whinges about how unjust it is for inerrantist Muslims to persecute him as they have done. Of course the fatwa is barbaric but Rushdie's reaction is a bit inconsistent, given that anyone writing about Islam in the late '80s surely must have been aware of the illiberalism of some adherents. Not Mr. Rushdie, however, which makes him look a bit silly.
Beyond that, Rushdie has the annoying habit of believing that he is a polymath when he clearly isn't. He sheepishly admits to befuddlement in the face of Hawking's book on physics and cosmology, but feels quite at home imposing sophomoric economic interpretations on top of his socialist politics. And his few essays about America in this book suffer from the same myopia for which he dismisses one of Naipaul's books: he clearly draws sweeping (and fashionably Eurocentric damning) conclusions about an extremely diverse society after visiting only its two largest (coastal) cities.
However, when Rushdie sticks to politics, the theme of the immigrant and the exile, and observations on racism and social dislocation, his writing is poignant, eloquent and powerful. This book is a very rewarding companion to his novels. I recommend it highly.
on April 8, 1997
Imaginary Homelands is the perfect companion to the rest ofRushdie. For serious readers/critics of Rushdie's work there is nobetter introduction to Rushdie the author and reader. The book is a collection of essays on myraid topics, the fatwa, racism in Britian, Rushdie's literary influences, politics and the language of Rushdie's fiction. The essays capture what numerous interviews might not have, the playful humour and intense earnestness of the author. One gets a taste of what goes through the mind of an author who is part of the literati, and a critic of his own work. Imaginary Homelands gives you an excellent introduction to the manner in which Rushdie writes, why he thinks the way he does, why his language is as it is, and the place his writing finds in his own mind and life.
"Imaginary Homelands" encapsulates some of Salman Rushdie's most potent literary "passing overs." 1981, when this collection of essays and reviews begins, witnessed the publication of Rushdie's second novel, "Midnight's Children." Unlike its stillborn predecessor, "Grimus," this thick, billowing and poignant book made his name. From advertising copywriter, to near poverty, to the Man Booker Prize. All in one action-packed year. Doubtless, Rushdie was never the same. By stark contrast, 1991, when this collection was published, found the acclaimed author literally running for his life from Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 "Satanic Verses" fatwa. His situation grew so dire that a speech included in the book's final section, entitled "Is Nothing Sacred?" was read in absentia. Doubtless, Rushdie was never the same. A decade bookended by euphoria and exile. In between, as this thick book reveals, Rushdie's pen almost never ceased its frenetic scribbling. His thoughts meandered widely: from migration, religion, esteemed colleagues, travel, India, Pakistan, England, the United States, racism, gambling, and film. The themes he explores in his novels also manifest themselves throughout this book's twelve sections.
The book's title essay discusses exile from country and culture and the alienation of the dislocated writer. The past remains elusive enough, never mind the half-remembered mores and social codes of one's lost homeland. These themes remain fundamental to Rushdie's work. After excoriating the murder of Indira Gandhi, adumbrating the Nehru-Gandhi "dynasty" (still discussed today in the Indian press), the discussion moves, briefly, to pros and cons of Pakistan. Resurgence of British imperialist ideology during the Thatcher years disturbs Rushdie in the scathing "Outside the Whale" and "Attenborough's Gandhi." On similar lines, "The New Empire Within Britain," apparently a transcript of a widely distributed videotape, deconstructs British racism. The bulk of the book comprises numerous literary reviews, most of which run between 2 to 5 pages. While streaming through these, readers will learn that Rushdie loved, among other things, Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day," Calvino's work in general, Márquez's "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," and Pynchon's "Vineland." Also, perhaps more interestingly, readers will discover that Rushdie did not particularly care for, among other things, Le Carré's "The Russia House," Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum" ("I hated it," he spews), Vargas Llosa's "The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta," Vonnegut's "Hocus Pocus," and Naipaul's "Among the Believers." The reviews read quickly, but the longer essays require more concentration. One of these, "In God We Trust," examines voluminous topics, including the religious versus the nationalistic atmosphere of 1990, the emergence of "reality" from imagination, and the creeping malaise of the United States. Here he digs deep.
Arguably, the book's most memorable piece, the one that will stick to people's psyches, is "In Good Faith." In almost 20 pages Rushdie defends "The Satanic Verses" against charges of insolence, literary brutality, and heresy. Along the way he discusses many of the book's themes, symbols, and intended meanings. He likens the controversy to a monstrous category mistake. Frustration, confusion, and agony bubble from every sentence. Intense stuff. And for the final show, the big closer, the book's edition makes quite a difference. Hardcover printings end with the essay "Why I Have Embraced Islam." Rushdie later deemed this too conciliatory and the very delayed paperback release dumped this piece in favor of the far less toadying "One Thousand Days in a Balloon." Given his situation in 1991, with threats flying from every corner, no one should blame him for the earlier piece's desperate tone. But new editions bring new perspectives, and "Imaginary Homelands" contains perspectives, insights, and entertainment in droves. An apt companion to Rushdie's literary work, this collection will help illuminate one of today's most important - and courageous - authors.