Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fairy tale for all ages, October 13, 2010
This review is from: Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Paperback)
This book is an enchanting and profound fairy story in its own right; but it acquires an especial dimension of poignancy when we remember the context in which it was written. Salman Rushdie was in hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini had issued the fatwa condemning Rushdie to death for having, in The Satanic Verses, played about with the story of the life of Mohammed; and he had called on faithful Muslims to carry out that sentence. In hiding, Salman was separated from his then eleven year old son Zafar and from his wife, the novelist Marianne Wiggins, who found the crisis in which her husband was involved as the result of his story telling such a strain on their relationship that, some time after The Satanic Verses was published, she announced that they were separating. Perhaps Rushdie, like Rashid (Haroun's father), had been so busy telling stories that he never noticed what it was doing to his family life.

Rushdie had defended himself against the fatwa, in part, with an impassioned plea for freedom of thought and speech and for not only the right to, but the value of, the imaginative faculties in literature.

This fairy story, written for Zafar, makes the same case. In it, the fear is expressed (but triumphantly met in this story) that the isolation of Rashid, "the Shah of Blah", would stifle his voice to a croak and disconnect him from the Ocean of Stories; the love is proclaimed which Salman has for the rich and colourful possibilities of story telling; the battle between him and the fundamentalists is shown in terms of the battle between Light and Darkness; the fantasy is that his son Zafar, alias Haroun, may rescue him and reunite him also with his wife Marianne, alias Soraya. It was surely Zafar's wishful fantasy also. Naturally in a story written for his son, it is Haroun and not Rashid who is the central character of the story. The story will delight Zafar; but it is probably only in later years that he would be able to take in the full meaning of the book.

The Ocean of Stories was on the planet Kahani (Indian for "story"), where a battle was fought out between two realms. A piece of machinery had prevented the planet from rotating, so that the sun never shone on the realm of physical and spiritual darkness. It was called Chup (Indian for "quiet"), and was governed by Khattam-Shud (Indian for "done for"), whose long-term objective was to poison the Ocean of Stories, which he has already managed to pollute, but he had not yet managed to plug the Well Spring itself. The realm of light, where the sun shone all the time, was called Gup (meaning "gossip" or "nonsense"). Its people argued about everything, and its army of Pages was rather chaotic until, in order to defend their freedom, they let themselves be organized into Chapters and Volumes: Rushdie believes that a good fight is best fought in print, and the Commander in Chief of the Guppee army is called Kitab (Indian for "book").

What wins the victory of Gup over Chup is a magic trick by which Haroun can wish for the sun to blaze on the dark side of Kahani, so that all the shadowy forces melt away. The trick has wrecked the machinery which has kept the people of Gup in perpetual light; when they repaired it, they came to a much more sensible arrangement and made the planet rotate in such a way that both sides of it had their share of light and darkness, of chatter and of quiet. Haroun had already found that darkness has its own beauty and interest: "'If Guppees and Chupwallas didn't hate each other so,' he thought, 'they might actually find each other pretty interesting. Opposites attract, as they say.'" The symbol of Yin and Yang springs to mind.

The story is full of reflections about freedom (with all its imperfections) and about the nature and importance of fantasy, myth and story-telling, about ecology and multi-culturalism, even about shadows in the Jungian sense. There is a special delight for those readers who recognize or are told the meaning of Indian words which are given as names to most of the characters, and who know about the role of gestures (mudra) made by often green-painted performers in Indian Kathakali dancing.
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