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The Ground Beneath Her Feet: A Novel Hardcover – April 13, 1999

3.7 out of 5 stars 143 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The ground shifts repeatedly beneath the reader's feet during the course of Salman Rushdie's sixth novel, a riff on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in the high-octane world of rock & roll. Readers get their first clues early on that the universe Rushdie is creating here is not quite the one we know: Jesse Aron Parker, for example, wrote "Heartbreak Hotel"; Carly Simon and Guinevere Garfunkel sang "Bridge over Troubled Water"; and Shirley Jones and Gordon McRae starred in "South Pacific." And as the novel progresses, Rushdie adds unmistakable elements of science fiction to his already patented magical realism, with occasionally uneven results.

Rushdie's cunning musician is Ormus Cana, the Bombay-born founder of the most popular group in the world. Ormus's Eurydice (and lead singer) is Vina Apsara, the daughter of a Greek American woman and an Indian father who abandoned the family. What these two share, besides amazing musical talent, is a decidedly twisted family life: Ormus's twin brother died at birth and communicates to him from "the other side"; his older brothers, also twins, are, respectively, brain-damaged and a serial killer. Vina, on the other hand, grew up in rural West Virginia where she returned home one day to find her stepfather and sisters shot to death and her mother hanging from a rafter in the barn. No wonder these two believe they were made for each other.

Narrated by Rai Merchant, a childhood friend of both Vina and Ormus, The Ground Beneath Her Feet begins with a terrible earthquake in 1989 that swallows Vina whole, then moves back in time to chronicle the tangled histories of all the main characters and a host of minor ones as well. Rushdie's canvas is huge, stretching from India to London to New York and beyond--and there's plenty of room for him to punctuate this epic tale with pointed commentary on his own situation: Muslim-born Rai, for example, remarks that "my parents gave me the gift of irreligion, of growing up without bothering to ask people what gods they held dear.... You may argue that the gift was a poisoned chalice, but even if so, that's a cup from which I'd happily drink again." Despite earthquakes, heartbreaks, and a rip in the time-space continuum, The Ground Beneath Her Feet may be the most optimistic, accessible novel Rushdie has yet written. --Alix Wilber

From Publishers Weekly

Time and space, understood conventionally, have never been enough for Rushdie's antic imagination, and here he needs two parallel universes to contain this playful, highly allusive journey through the last 40 years of pop culture. Ormus Cama, a supernaturally gifted musician, and his beloved, Vina Apsara, a half-Indian woman with a soul-thrilling voice, meet in Bombay in the late '50s, discover rock and roll, and form a band that goes on to become the world's most popular musical act. Narrator Rai Merchant, their lifelong friend, is a world-famous photographer and Vina's "backdoor man." Rai tells the story of their great, abiding love (both are named for love gods: Cama as in Kama Sutra, and Vina for Venus), which thrives on obstacles. At first Vina is underage, and Ormus swears not to touch her until she turns 16; then, after one night of love, she disappears for a decade, returning only to rescue Ormus from a near fatal coma. While he swears chastity for a decade, Vina tests their commitment with a string of other lovers, of whom only Rai is kept secret. Ultimately, Ormus and Vina reenact the Orpheus myth, not once but twice. And this is only the heart of a plot whose action moves from Bombay to London to Manhattan. Rai's work as photographer underwrites meditations on 20th-century art and journalism. Rock and roll inspires endless fun, as Rushdie sprinkles lyrics into his narrative, and scrambles pop music names and historyAElvis Presley becomes Jesse Garon Parker, for instance. History is scrambled, too: Watergate turns out to be nothing more than a pulp thriller. The reader slowly discovers that the novel is set in a universe parallel to our own, and the characters catch glimpses of an alternate reality that looks more like our actual world. Despite many comic and dazzling passages, the hyperbole, the scrambled allusions and the parallel universes eventually become wearying. While not one of his masterpieces, this flawed giant is a spirited, head-spinning entertainment from a writer of undeniable genius. Agent: The Wylie Agency. Rights sold in Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the U.K.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (April 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805053085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805053081
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,247,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For the Rushdie fan, there is much in this book to be admired: imagination, brilliant storytelling, an excellent sense of humor and passages of some of the best prose being written in English today. It seems, at times, that Rushdie's inventive capacity is unlimited: the strangest of characters emerge with the most checkered of personal histories, idiosyncrasies and destinies -- so much so that believability is stretched to almost absurd limits. But hasn't this always been Rushdie's domain, ever since Midnight's Children? The difference here, perhaps (and this is why the novel is not a peer of Rushdie's best), is that the author appears to let the absurd, the outlandish, the improbable invade in almost random tentacles throughout the body of the work. Also, the prose is not as consistent as in earlier works -- flashes of brilliance, of genius, are followed by untidy ramblings in need of editing. There is something baffling-joycean about the work, but that is a mode that doesn't really suit Rushdie and his mature voice. He is at his absolute best at times, but the whole structure of the work does not always sustain the narrative. Moreover, you never really feel that Ormus and Vina are truly in love -- the deep love never really happens -- not anything that seems human, at least. Perhaps owing to the rock'n'roll milieu in which the novel transpires, there is more use of gutter language and more casual exposes of sexual acts and fantasies than one would normally encounter in a Rushdie novel. A bit of this kind of language is descriptive, demonstrative; too much of it (and this happens from time to time) impoverishes the overall texture of the novel. Still, Rushdie remains one of the most exciting and engaging writers alive today. I have not yet found a rival in the modern literary world. Let's only hope that his next novel will find the right blend between inventive caprice and the craftsmanship of an undisputed master.
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Format: Hardcover
Although I have loved other Rushdie novels and admired their complexities, I found this novel disappointing on a number of levels, not least of which is its clumsiness in style. Rushdie here veers from narrative to philosophical exposition, and even polemic, sometimes within the same paragraph. He appears to distance himself not only from his characters but also from his readers. The reader is jarred to no purpose when the narrative, which already switches back and forth in time and location, is interrupted yet again for turgid philosophical ramblings which do nothing to advance the plot and seem to serve primarily to give the illusion of depth to a shallow, too-long story.
At times the author patronizes both the reader and his characters: "Doorman Shetty doesn't know it, but he's echoing Plato. This is what the great philosopher has Phaedrus say in the Symposiums's first speech about love...." Two pages of philosophy follow.
In the conclusion of the book, when it is necessary to tie up the loose ends, the author devotes many pages to "telling about" the action, rather than recreating it and allowing the reader to draw his/her own conclusions. In case we have missed the many parallels he has made between his characters and the classical myths, he summarizes them for us. In the final two chapters, he also shifts the focus, startlingly, to the narrator, rather than keeping it on the two characters who have been the center(s) of the novel. And even on the last page, the author feels it necessary to explain, even providing us with the unifying theme of the book, should we need it: "In my lifetime, the love of Ormus and Vina is as close as I've come to a knowledge of the mythic, the overweening, the divine.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Ground Beneath Her Feet" is Rushdie's latest offering to the world. It is yet another eruption of the rumbling force trapped under the landslide of hate and fanaticism. It is a voice from the underground pleading to be set free. The mythical framework used by Rushdie is the Orpheus-Eurydice legend. Orpheus ventured to the land of the dead to bring Eurydice back to life. Paralleling this myth is its Indian counterpart: that of Kama and Rati. Kama was destroyed by the third eye of Shiva but, when Rati pleaded, Shiva soon relented and restored him to life. These two legends are worked into Salman Rushdie's novel.
Ostensibly it is a love-story: the story of Vina Apsara and Ormus Cama, both star singers, much in love with each other, locked in a volatile relationship that can neither be consummated easily nor abandoned as a lost cause. Hovering between the two is Umeed Merchant, a.k.a. Rai, a professional photographer, also hopelessly infatuated with Vina Apsara. Rai is the narrator of the foredoomed love-story, the Tiresias who sees all and suffers all, the bard who can see and narrate Past, Present, and Future. The narrative begins with the disappearance of Vina Apsara on Valentine's Day of 1989 (which in reality was the day when Khomeini passed the infamous fatwa against Rushdie), loops back in time to recount events that took place in the past, and returns in a circumlocutory manner to the main story, thus completing a full circle. The myths used are timeless, but they are placed in a contemporary situation, making the story comprehensible to us in the present times.
What is unusual about Rushdie's latest gift to his readers is the music content of his book. Rushdie is no stranger to popular music.
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