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The Satanic Verses: A Novel Paperback – March 11, 2008
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No book in modern times has matched the uproar sparked by Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, which earned its author a death sentence. Furor aside, it is a marvelously erudite study of good and evil, a feast of language served up by a writer at the height of his powers, and a rollicking comic fable. The book begins with two Indians, Gibreel Farishta ("for fifteen years the biggest star in the history of the Indian movies") and Saladin Chamcha, a Bombay expatriate returning from his first visit to his homeland in 15 years, plummeting from the sky after the explosion of their jetliner, and proceeds through a series of metamorphoses, dreams and revelations. Rushdie's powers of invention are astonishing in this Whitbread Prize winner. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Banned in India before publication, this immense novel by Booker Prize-winner Rushdie ( Midnight's Children ) pits Good against Evil in a whimsical and fantastic tale. Two actors from India, "prancing" Gibreel Farishta and "buttony, pursed" Saladin Chamcha, are flying across the English Channel when the first of many implausible events occurs: the jet explodes. As the two men plummet to the earth, "like titbits of tobacco from a broken old cigar," they argue, sing and are transformed. When they are found on an English beach, the only survivors of the blast, Gibreel has sprouted a halo while Saladin has developed hooves, hairy legs and the beginnings of what seem like horns. What follows is a series of allegorical tales that challenges assumptions about both human and divine nature. Rushdie's fanciful language is as concentrated and overwhelming as a paisley pattern. Angels are demonic and demons are angelic as we are propelled through one illuminating episode after another. The narrative is somewhat burdened by self-consciousness that borders on preciosity, but for Rushdie fans this is a splendid feast. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; first serial to Harper's; BOMC alternate; QPBC alternate; author tour.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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That being said, I noticed that many reviewers here say they do not find the book offensive to Moslems, while simultaneously admitting their own lack of knowledge regarding Islam. As a fairly well-versed Moslem, I can impartially state that Rushdie repeatedly criticizes, and even ridicules, the Islamic faith, in ways both subtle and overt, throughout this entire book.
Did Rushie's criticism bother me? Not at all. Did it justify a Fatwa by the Ayatollah? Of course not. But can the book be reasonably interpreted as being offensive to some Moslems? Those who know the Islamic faith would be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.
Nevertheless, realizing that this is just a work of fiction by a gifted novelist, I enjoyed reading the book and recommend it to all my friends.
There are two major characters in the book: Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. Both are more or less self made guys who have each attained some success in entertainment fields. Gibreel in movies, a regular heartthrob, and Saladin in voiceover work where his speciality is upper class English diction. Saladin hates being Indian and has decided that his heart belongs to England and to his ultimately and callously unfaithful wife, wait for it, Pamela (is that English or what?). The two (Saladin and Gibreel) find themselves on a flight from India to England which is first hijacked and then blown up at cruising altitude where the two, during the long trip to Earth, have a discussion which is interrupted by, of all things, their survival from the fall (it is instructive to note that during the plummet, Saladin chooses to use up some of his apparently limited time by singing Rule Britannia). Things change, one might say.
Fourteen or so centuries earlier we are introduced to Mahound (I am given to understand that referring to The Prophet Muhammed in that fashion is disrespectful) who is in the process of attempting to convert the polytheistic Arabs of Jahilia. What? I thought it was Mecca. Well, it's deep, see? Jahilia is apparently an Arabic term meaning "ignorance of the will of God", which describes the pre conversion state of the Meccans, I assume. Things are not going well. Muhammed is in the process of receiving the Holy Quran from God through the angel Gabriel (Arabic "Gibreel". See where this is going?), while at the same time preaching monotheism with only limited success. Temptation arises when the head Sultan (or something) asks Muhammed to just spare a few, only three, of the three hundred sixty gods to please the ruler's wife whose family is in charge of the temples of the three female gods and gets money during the pilgrimages. Muhammed goes to the mountain cave, enters his trance and comes back down the hill and permits the three female gods to be honored. There is a hoo-hah among the followers of Muhammed because they have bought into monotheism and are disappointed. Muhammed goes back up the mountain, into the cave, back down the mountain into Jahilia and announces that the verses allowing the three gods were from Satan, not God, and withdraws them. Get it? The Satanic Verses. They're the real deal, actually existing in some ancient Islamic texts, but fervently denied currently.
That's it. That's the story which got people stabbed and burned up. Muhammed was misled by Satan, caught on, rectified the mistake and continued to receive valid revelation from God through Gabriel so that ultimately the Quran was the direct and pure word of God. I don't get it. Seems to me like the God who created the entire Cosmos would have enough horsepower to deal with an errant author on His own. It even seems to me that it wasn't all that nasty in the first place - most Muslims assiduously avoid deification of Muhammed. I think they are just grouchy. I oversimplify somewhat. It can be said that the general tone of the episodes concerning the revelations to the Prophet can fairly be said to call into question whether maybe some of the revelations were Muhammed dealing with ad hoc situations in his personal life. Was there a disagreement with his favorite wife? Up comes a revelation setting her straight on the issue. So some Muslims got angry with Salmon.
Here I must digress and impose a hiatus while I read Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ, a book which had a similar effect in the Christian community, although I do not think anyone was stabbed or burned. Also, not atypically, the reaction was not to the book, which is sort of fat and not likely to be read by our Christian lot, but rather to the movie made from the book. I shall choose the book as the basis for my comparison knowing full well that I am opting for twelve hours or so as opposed to two, a significant sacrifice to the blogger's muse.
I will get back to this when I complete Last Temptation and can think more clearly about the rather common, but to me inexplicable, violent response to perceived blasphemy.
Okay, now I am better informed. The Last Temptation of Christ is a book from the 1950's and is afflicted with theology even older than that. I suspect that Kazantzakis wrote it as a sort of Midrash, a riff on Jesus' humanity, which seems a legitimate and loyal-Christian kind of thing to do. There are distractions, of course, which seize the attention (Mary Magdalene is nowhere in the Bible described as a whore), but all in all the attempt is nicely done to make the point, which seems to be that Jesus is an example of how the most attractive and intense temptations of life can be overcome. The point is made with rather extreme examples: Jesus waiting in line at a whorehouse, Jesus sucking up to Romans by making crosses for their executions, Jesus trying to make God hate Jesus so that the load of Messiah-ship may be taken off, but it all comes out alright in the end, good triumphs, evil is defeated. So what's wrong with that? What on Earth about the book prompted such vituperative rants from offended believers?
It's fundamentalism, that's what it is. Not exactly a spoiler. Those who struggle with a subconsciously held worry that their beliefs are fragile, puny, ephemeral and subject to destruction by countervailing views will always react with violence to any description of their orthodoxy which strays from the company line. And so it is with Satanic Verses. The true believer must leap to the defense of God, who by reason of frailty one supposes, is insufficiently strong to handle the defense himself. Apparently God exhausts himself with the first iteration of the revelation and must rely on believers to keep the revelation pure and unsullied by those who would vary the storyline. It's sort of silly, although the silliness is somewhat blunted by the firebombs and terrorism with which believers often make their point.
The Satanic Verses is beautifully written, funny and marvelously inventive. Saladin, for instance, does not quite get the angelic treatment of Gibreel in that Saladin morphs into a faun, Pan, some sort of goat-legged horned-head Priapic sulfur stinking denizen of Hell with the personality of a complete sissy. It is a delightful read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it - just don't read it looking for some hardcore blasphemy. Beats me if it's in there anywhere.
Many readers have been drawn to this novel by the provocative controversy which surrounds it. If you're reading Satanic Verses looking for a shocking denouncement you will likely be disappointed. Unless you're a scholar of the Islamic faith you likely won't understand what all the fuss is about.
I read this novel over ten years ago and have re-read it in bits and pieces many times since. Aside from the imaginative interwoven plot the most compelling feature of Verses is Rushdie's amazing lyrical writing style. Love him or hate him Rushdie is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant authors writing in the English language, and practically every section of prose could be enjoyed on it's own independent of the story. There is more word-play and double meanings is Verses than you could find in a dozen readings; every time you read a chapter you'll find something new.
Aside from a general interest in the various religions of the world I profess no great knowledge of the Koran, therefore undoubtedly there is symbolism in Verses that I missed/didn't understand. Some elements of this book that won't be accessible for the lay reader. But based purely on its creativity and masterful prose this book is a worthwhile, entertaining, and challenging read.
(A background note: Satanic Verses was the first Rushdie novel I read, and I promptly fell in love with his work. I subsequently read The Moor's Last Sigh and East West, and promptly feel right back out of love. Satanic Verses was the novel that Rushdie was born to write; in his lyrical prose, humor, and surrealistic mix of realism with the fantastic he creates an amazing work of art. Nothing he has written comes close. Unless you're a die-hard Rushdie fan, a scholar of Indian society and the interrelation between East and West simply read this novel and skip the rest.)