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Luka and the Fire of Life: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Salman Rushdie on Luka and the Fire of Life

There’s a line in Paul Simon’s song St. Judy’s Comet, a sort of lullaby, about his reason for writing it. "If I can’t sing my boy to sleep," he sings, "it makes your famous daddy look so dumb." More than twenty years ago, when my older son Zafar said to me that I should write a book he could read, I thought about that line. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, written in 1989-90, a dark time for me, was the result. I tried to fill it with light and even to give it a happy ending. Happy endings were things I had become very interested in at the time.

When my younger son Milan read Haroun he immediately began to insist that he, too, merited a book. Luka and the Fire of Life is born of that insistence. It is not exactly a sequel to the earlier book, but it is a companion. The same family is at the heart of both books, and in both books a son must rescue a father. Beyond those similarities, however, the two books inhabit very different imaginative milieux.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories was born at a time of crisis in its author’s life and the fictional Haroun’s quest to rescue his father’s lost storytelling skills in a world in which stories themselves are being poisoned was a fable that responded to that crisis.

Luka and the Fire of Life is a response to a different, but equally great, danger: that an older father may not live to see his son grow up. In the earlier book, it was storytelling that was being threatened; in the new one, it is the storyteller who is at risk. Once again, the book grows out of the reality of my own life, and my relationship with a very particular child. Luka is my son Milan’s middle name, just as Haroun is Zafar’s.

As well as the central theme of life and death, Luka explores in, I hope, suitably fabulous and antic fashion, things I have thought about all my life: the relationships between the world of imagination and the "real" world, between authoritarianism and liberty, between what is true and what is phony, and between ourselves and the gods that we create. Younger readers do not need to dwell on these matters. Older readers may, however, find them satisfying.

It has been my aim, in Luka as in Haroun, to write a story that demolishes the boundary between "adult" and "children’s" literature. One way I have thought about Luka and Haroun is that each of them is a message in a bottle. A child may read these books and, I hope, derive from them the pleasures and satisfactions that children seek from books. The same child may read them again when he or she is grown, and see a different book, with adult satisfactions instead of (or as well as) the earlier ones.

I don’t want to end without thanking the boys for whom these books were written and who helped me in their creation with a number of invaluable editorial suggestions. Luka and the Fire of Life has been the most enjoyable writing experience I’ve had since I wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I hope it may prove as enjoyable to read as it was to write.

(Photo © Alberto Conti)

From Publishers Weekly

Rushdie unleashes his imagination on an alternate world informed by the surreal logic of video games, but the author's entertaining wordplay and lighter-than-air fantasies don't amount to more than a clever pastiche. A sequel of sorts to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, this outing finds Haroun's younger brother, Luka, on a mission to save his father, guided, ironically, by Nobodaddy, a holograph-like copy of his father intent on claiming the old man's life. Along the way, they're joined by a collection of creatures, including a dog named Bear, a bear named Dog, hybrid bird-elephant beasts, and a princess with a flying carpet. As with video games, Luka stores up extra lives, proceeds to the next level after beating big baddies, and uses his wits to overcome bottomless chasms and trash-dropping otters. Rushdie makes good use of Nobodaddy, and his world occasionally brims with allegory (the colony of rats called the "Respectorate of I" brings the Tea Party to mind), but this is essentially a fun tale for younger readers, not the novel Rushdie's adult fans have been waiting for.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (November 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679463364
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679463368
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Sir Salman Rushdie is the author of many novels including Grimus, Midnight's Children, Shame, The Satanic Verses, The Moor's Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown and The Enchantress of Florence. He has also published works of non-fiction including, The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands, The Wizard of Oz and, as co-editor, The Vintage Book of Short Stories.

He has received many awards for his writing including the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. In 1993 Midnight's Children was judged to be the 'Booker of Bookers', the best novel to have won the Booker Prize in its first 25 years. In June 2007 he received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Barb Caffrey VINE VOICE on November 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Salman Rushdie's fable "Luka and the Fire of Life" is a fun book about Luka, the son of Rashid Khalifa, a storyteller, and Soraya, a woman of scientific bent. Rashid and Soraya were older parents with a son already full grown when they had Luka, so Luka feels vaguely embarrassed, more so than do most adolescents in search of adventure. That his older brother Haroun already had an awesome adventure of his own (told in Rushdie's earlier "Haroun and the Sea of Stories") just put pressure on Luka to find something, anything that he could call his own. That Luka has two interesting pets -- a bear he calls Dog and a dog he calls Bear -- that came from a dying circus only adds to Luka's internal frustration that he hasn't yet had adventures -- and now that he's hitting puberty, he wants his own adventure.

This is a fable and has the conventions of a fable or fairy tale, yet it's a modern one in that Rushdie nods many times toward the audience as if to say, "Guess what? I'm having fun with this, and you should, too." It's mostly a wry commentary on families, life, and how everyone is searching for his own identity in his own way -- but it's done so well, and with so much brio, that it's almost impossible not to like it even though if you've read many fables or fairy tales, you know how this is going to end.

So plot by itself is really not the upthrust of this book; rather, I'd say this is a book to seek out if you enjoy language, social commentary, and a sideways look at our ever-shrinking world. It's enjoyable, witty, fast-paced in its own way (remember, it's fast-paced for a _fable_), and fun.

Four stars. Recommended.

Barb Caffrey
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76 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Phyllis Staff TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Luka's father is dying, and, without Luka's help he will soon be gone. But what can a 12-year-old boy do to save his father? As it turns out -- quite a lot.

Luka's story was created by Salman Rushdie for his own 12-year-old son, Luka. The novel is filled with contemporary references, clever puns, and wonderful language, so why would I rate it only three stars? Let me explain:


This is my first experience reading Salman Rushdie, and it's quite a treat. Mr. Rushdie has wide-ranging classical knowledge which he brings to his narrative. His use of the English language is stunning. For the first 100 pages of this novel, I was charmed by his skills.


For me, the problem with this novel is the story. In spite of the wonderful language, I was never able to connect with the story. In fact, after the first 100 pages, I found myself skimming rather than engrossing myself in the reading. Too bad, because Mr. Rushdie is a wonderful writer -- but a not-as-good story creator.

To illustrate: A dog named Bear, and a bear named Dog, were amusing when first introduced, but this name reversal quickly grew stale and, eventually, annoying. Although these two characters contributed to the story, it was not enough to rescue a tale that stretched on far too long.

So, would I buy this novel for my own 12-year-old son? No. I don't find the story strong enough to hold (what I remember of) his interest.


For his writing, five stars.

For the story, two stars.

Average: 3.5 stars
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
What a father Salman Rushdie would make! Imagine being read to from a book that opens with "a boy named Luka who had two pets, a bear named Dog and a dog named Bear." And then to learn that the former "was an expert dancer, able to get up onto his hind legs and perform with subtlety and grace the waltz, the polka, the rhumba, the wah-watusi, and the twist, as well as dances from nearer home, the pounding bhangra, the twirling ghoomar (for which he worse a wide mirror-worked skirt), the warrior dances known as the spaw and the thang-ta, and the peacock dance of the south." For Rushdie is a wizard with words, taking us in a sentence from ordinary to exotic and back again. This is a book for children to hear with wonder and for adults to understand, for Rushdie's range of reference (and fondness for erudite puns) is immense.

Luka Khalifa is the much younger brother of the title character in HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES, Rushdie's earlier fantasy for the child in all of us. His father, the great storyteller, the Shah of Blah, is in a coma and Luka must journey into the Magic World to steal the Fire of Life before his being is sucked away by the spectral Nobodaddy, who becomes more and more visible as he empties the dying man of his substance. The quest involves the assistance of elephant-headed Memory Birds, a shape-changing dragon called Nuthog, and the benevolent but fierce-speaking Insultana of Ott, who provides a magic carpet to take Luka much of the way to his destination. But Luka is no shrinking violet himself.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Julie Merilatt VINE VOICE on September 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
While this book is a follow-up to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, you don't have to have read it to appreciate Luka's story. It is another magical journey into the enchanted world of Luka's father, Rashid's imagination. The poetic analogy of videogames as alternate reality, which was an ongoing theme throughout Luka's adventure, was hilarious. There were great pop-culture and literary references that made me chuckle and an abundance of cameos of mythological creatures from various cultures. Luka's great quest to find the Fire of Life to save Rashid, the allies he acquires along the way, and the final battle against Time were reminiscent of Wonderland, Oz, and a variety of other well-known favorite fantasy worlds. Though I'm afraid my imagination has become less imaginative to appreciate these whimsical expeditions, I still found it charming and clever.
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