The Satanic Verses

Finally, after having the novel (actually printed on paper from an online text, since the book as such is banned in Pakistan and not available in market) for more than one and a half year, i have completed the book, and known what all the fuss was about. When i started reading it previously, i got stuck in the middle and left it, until the novel called out to me again the previous week, and i picked it, started anew and read it to the last page. How do i feel? Disappointed, i guess. Compared to Midnight's Children, The Satanic Verses is a pale echo of Rushdie's talent. On the whole, i found the novel unremarkable, and the narration dragged awfully at many places. But there were also passages that were remarkable, splinters of diamonds floating in muddy water, and it was this that saved the book from being a reader's waste of time.

So what is the novel basically about? It is the story of two Indian men, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, who after the explosion of a hijacked plane, are falling down towards London in the sky, and during this fall, the process of transmutation begins and Gibreel becomes the Arch-angel, and Saladin becomes the very devil. Rushdie's characteristic style of magical realism blends the extraordinary and magical with the real in such a way that it doesn't even sound odd. The novel follows the life of these two characters before and after the fall, dealing with many issues of post-colonialism, of Indian emigrants in the West, alienation, love, identity crises, and at all times the narration retains a distinct comic tone. And Rushdie makes an uncountable number of references, from mythology to popular culture, from religion to science, which makes it enjoyable if you can recognize these references and understand the links.

But the story is not uniform. Entwined within this primary narrative are several other parallel stories going on, which are based on the dream-like, delusional, magical visions of Gibreel Farishta, who sees himself as the Arch-angel Gibreel (Gabriel) bringing revelation to Mahound, to Ayesha, a peasant girl who leads the people of his village to believe that they should go to Mecca on foot and that the Arabian sea would part for them, and to an Imam, which is an allusion to Ayatollah Khomeini. It is these parallel, superimposed stories that are most interesting about the novel, particularly the part about Mahound, which is highly controversial (blasphemous, as many would say) and is one of the wittiest satires on religion. There is the polytheistic universe of Jahilia, in which Rushdie presents a rivarly of dieties, of Al-Lah vs Al-Lat, is of considerable interest. And there are some strong characters, Mahound himself, Hind, Abu Simbel, the skeptical poet Baal, and Salman Farsi, who is a scribe of Mahound's revelations, but becomes disillusioned with Mahound and makes changes with the revealed texts. Also central to this narrative is the supposed incident of Satanic Verses, in which Mahound first presents revelation recognizing the three Meccan goddesses Allat, Uzza, and Manah, but later retracts the verses claiming them to have been revealed by the Satan. And there are other things which are too blasphemous for me to write on the blog!

Rushdie has an excellent power of description, rich with similies, metaphors and allegories. These passages gives an idea of the skill he has in language:

'The city of Jahilia is built entirely of sand, its structures formed of the desert whence it rises... [Its citizens] have learned the art of transforming the fine white dune-sand of those forsaken parts, - the very stuff of inconstancy, - the quintessence of unsettlement shifting, treachery, lack-of-form, - and have turned it, by alchemy, into the fabric of their newly invented permanence.'

'An iceberg is water striving to be land; a mountain... is land's attempt to metamorphose into sky.'

The novel also possess some philosophical reflection:

'Question: What is the opposite of faith?
Not disbelief. Too final, certain, closed. Itself a kind of belief.

'From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustable.'

But, Rushdie also becomes very crude at times. For instance:

'Mahound comes to me for revelation, asking me to choose between monotheist and henotheist alternatives, and I'm just some idiot actor having a bhaenchud nightmare, what the fuck do I know, yaar, what to tell you, help. Help.'

So, if you are a big Rushdie fan or highly interested in the Satanic Verses controversy or curious about the satire, go for the novel, but if you just a plain reader, wishing to read a pleasant, enjoyable novel, than just stay away from it, because my opinion is that you would be disappointed.


Vasudha said…
Hmm... so that's the plot of the book. It's banned in India, too.

I like this:
"Question: What is the opposite of faith?
Not disbelief. Too final, certain, closed. Itself a kind of belief.

Thanks for sharing the review. :)
Umair said…
So, You finally done it. hehe. I hope I could also make it some day.

Well, a very well written review. The more interest this review has created in me is due to the mentioning of the fact that there are many controsersies that you do not intend to talk about on this blog. The veiling of such things arouses human curiosity.

When I started reading it I could not comprehend it because I was not used to reading novels written in postmodern literary techniques. So I left it unfinished. I hope some day "it will call me as well". hehe.

Anyways, have fun with some other book as well.
Ahmad said…
Well first of all let me congratulate you on writing a piece on Satanic Verses. There are many issues involved in analyzing this book. The style which Rushdie uses is not a conventional one. Rushdie is perhaps the greatest story teller of our times, in his narrative, extreme conflicting trends co-exist in the narrative to create a mosaic of life. Reality becomes fantasy and fantasy becomes reality. The trauma of modernity for Islam and India is the basic fixation of Rushdie. The violent clash of identities, Indian-moslem-pakistani-british-brown sab-desi emerge in his work as a great "consciousness" through which Rushdie re-reads history, culture, society and religion.
It is precisely this oppositional approach which results in a broken, incoherent narrative, violently conflicting ideas that become a tribute to absurdity, of life, religion, history and narrative itself.
This is "inversing stream of consciousness"
wtever said…
I haven't read any of Rushdie's work except Satanic verses. All I can say is that he isn't an average writer in his expressions and captivating natural style of weaving stories.
As far as the content is concerned, S.V is bound to amuse and inspire amateur critics of religion and other complexed-ly evolved philosophies.

I personally put it at par with harry potter stories : fantastic and amusing ; and lacking connection with the tools required to analyze the reality of different situations in their respective contexts.
Qasim Aziz said…
I expected a bit more criticism.
Blog reader said…
request: could you please provide the URL of "The Satanic Verses"