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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