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Book || Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (Salman Rushdie)

In his recently released fiction, Salman Rushdie wishes to compare and show the absolute correlation of absurdity irrespective of the great passage time by looking at a particular age through the prism of a different time.

While we in the future tend to read the 1001 Arabian Nights as also an impossible tale of injustice, a narrative of tooth and nail survival against the tidal whims of an all-powerful who can only be enchanted by a vibrant web of narratives, the future has made the human race more ‘formidable’ as they became wary of stories instead of turning into kids at the mere prospect of being introduced to a cosmos of possibilities.

Ironically, as stories came to Shehrazade’s safety in the classic Arabian epic, they became the prime cause of misfortune for the British-Indian author Salman Rushdie, one of whose books were deemed ‘Satanic’ enough for a handful of self-professed guardian of religion to engineer mass hysteria and violence & issue a fatwa of death against Rushdie. In an all-encompassing autobiography, Rushdie confessed in his ‘Joseph Anton’ that he was no longer fascinated by the overarching arcs of storytelling that marked the finest earlier works of his career. He had expressed his desire to look for the truth that is without a peer or a double – an argument which escapes nullification, holding up even in the face of the evolved mirrors of the future.

In that respect at least, Rushdie has failed in his potentially endless and in execution, a collage of largely unrelated pieces of popular art. As simple as Rushdie had hoped to be, he ended up being carelessly obscure, fitting nearly 1001 nights (2 years, 8 months and 28 nights) worth of material in an economical 300 pages which, at times, end up reading like a poorly edited first draft that is only spared the guillotine because of the kernel of truth tucked among the barrage of contemporary references and artistic absurdity.

Even as Rushdie weaves a characteristically grandiose tale of djinns (good ones and bad), humans manifesting ‘superpowers’ as they find themselves to be descended from the fairy (djinn) ‘Duniya’ (literally, ‘the world’), who had a turbulent affair in the 12th century with the Muslim philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushdn, who in turn, continues to have a post-death debate of sorts with Al-Ghazali, advocate of blind dogmatic ‘faith’ while Ibn Rusd stands for reason. Rushdie frames his own history as his story in the ancient roots comes a full circle in the New York of present where a cataclysmic storm has opened an ancient ‘divide’, letting four djinns of unreason (‘descended’ from Al-Ghazali) come to our world while a band of ‘superheroes’, the offspring of the charismatic djinn Duniya and Ibn Rushd, is rounded up by their ancient mother to fight the forces that has trespassed on earth.

The central theme that Rushdie sets out to tackle in his latest novel is the conflict over reason and unreason, narrated from the point of view of an entirely different age in the future when mankind has realized the futility behind the concept of God & belief sans reason, managing finally to co-exist in peace. The utopia, of course, comes in a single shade of colour, unlike the chaotic past which may not have had peace but was the progenitor of dreams, of art and of imagination (or so Rushdie claims).

The book is a veritable roller coaster which appears to possess every nuance that Rushdie excels in. His trademark wry humour, ingenious development of words and keen observations marked by the ‘reality’ of the outlandish experiences narrated within contribute to the perceptible ‘truth’ of the entire structure. Rushdie carefully paints Geronimo Manezes, a ‘down to earth’ gardener, originally from Mumbai (like Rushdie himself), who wishes in the constant heat of nostalgic fervour that he could live the good life that he used back in his hometown. A shock awaits him as he suddenly finds himself levitating half an inch up in the air at all times (the result of the catastrophic storm) while simultaneously being pulled into a war which changes the very fabric of human existence, along with a handful of other ‘humans’ who have started to show traits of djinn-human hybrids that can put the best minds of Marvel and DC to shame, including a baby who also happens to be a lie detector and a ‘femme fatale’ whose fingers have started to generate ‘lightning’.

Thus begins the war between forces of ‘coherence’ and ‘incoherence’, a final battle to settle the debate for good – perhaps a desperate realization on the author’s part of the futility of debate while one camp keeps showing their dissent in kind. A larger than life, unbelievable battle worth an ‘Avengers’ storyline is exactly what the situation demands after being overtaken by murderous forces of blind belief.

Salman Rushdie’s latest may not be a typical fodder for classics, having deliberately sidelined the grand narrative in favour of popcorn lessons in philosophy and a simpler symbology, Rushdie seems to be testing his waters before entering a brand new, potentially fascinating phase of his writing career. The child in him keeps working his mind even as Rushdie himself seems to be heading in a direction which had been practiced to perfection in the past by the likes of George Bernard Shaw, fusing coherence AND incoherence to grasp at the manifesting version of ‘truth’. []

Book: Two years, Eight months and Twenty-Eight nights
Author: Salman Rushdie
Published by Random House
Released on September 8, 2015

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue Two: November 2015