Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review:: The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie

Title: The Satanic Verses
Author: Salman Rushdie
Format: Trade Paperback
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Rushdie's prose is just so beautiful sometimes I don't know what to do with it. Tack on magical realism, and you should have a book I loved. Unfortunately, somewhere The Satanic Verses falls slightly short of that mark. The plot, which seemed to be set up for intricacy, felt more disjointed in places than seamless. I also had an incredibly difficult time relating to any of the characters.

The Satanic Verses is a story of change, and change is one of my favorite themes. Two men on an international flight fall from 30,000 feet after a terrorist attack. The sole, inexplicable survivors then begin to experiences sudden changes; the egotistical Gibreel Farishta gaining a halo and dreaming of his adopted namesake and the more well-meaning (but trying to desperately divorce himself of any Indian-ness) Saladin Chamcha starts turning into the devil, with hairy goat legs and horns.

The two whisk around each other for a while, tied up in their roles and watching their foreignness cause issues for them both back home and in London. They both lose their acting careers (Gibreel was a film actor; Saladin a voice actor) and attempts to reinstate their roles fail miserably. They are unlucky in so many possible ways to be unlucky, although these rarely seem to be acts of fate, and more simply reactions to what they've done.

Some of the sections of the book seem to be following the dreams Gibreel has as the Archangel Gabriel, although it's not always clear when this is happening. While these stories seem to have some thematic importance, I really wish they had been better tied into the story. Maybe I was missing something? I mean, there were ties here and there, but never enough for me to really understand what the real importance of these stories were.

There's also some trouble with the treatment of women. For the most part (although this somewhat changes towards the end) they're treated as either creatures without agency or extraordinarily manipulative.

If you're not that familiar with Indian culture, some of the book may seem to be opaque today. And because Rushdie doesn't always use the most Google-able spelling, it might be difficult to look up. However, with my basic understanding of Indian culture and Google at my aid, the book was pretty accessible. There were a few things I didn't 100% understand, but context gave me a pretty good feeling.

And no, at no point did I feel like Rushdie deserved to die for writing this book. I'm not going to touch on the controversy. If you'd like to read about that, there's a pretty good page on Wikipedia. I will say, however, that I'm pretty excited my sister is going to Emory. I also picked up this book in part because it was a book written the year I was born. That, and it's alluded to so often, I felt like I should, just for the sake of reading other books.


  1. I never thought to read books written the year I was born, so thanks for making me think about that. Turns out, I've read a few, including a favorite of mine as well as a best seller: Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase. I should pick up this one since I'm old enough to remember the controversy surrounding it!

    1. I've had a lot of fun with the challenge. It's gotten me to read a lot of things I definitely wouldn't have otherwise.