Sarena, August 9, 2008 (view all comments by Sarena)
Salman Rushdie was a relatively unknown writer when The Satanic Verses was published. Though his second novel Midnight’s Children won him an award, most American’s were unaware of Rushdie’s talent. What put Rushdie on the literary map was the death sentence the Ayatollah Khomeini handed down because of The Satanic Verses.
I was not sure what I was getting into when I picked up the book. I know the story behind the title. It is written that Mohammad recited some controversal law given to him by the Archangel Gabriel. When it became apparent these new laws angered both his followers and retractors Mohammad questioned Gabriel about them. Gabriel told Mohamed the devil had desquised himself as Gabriel and lied to bring confusion to Mohammad’s people. These verses were struck from the “books” and are known as The Satanic Verses. So from the title I knew I was reading lies.
The story centers around two Indian men both whom live “lies”. One is a big Indian movie star named Gibreel (though as a child his mother called him Shaten) who always plays Indian deities. The other named Saladin (whose name resembles the author’s enough to not go unnoticed) who left India for England to get away from the Indian way of life. Saladin considers himself British and not at all Indian.
The two meet on a plane heading to London from Bombay. Gibreel is running away from his life because of a woman, while Saladin is returning to London after visiting his dying father in Bombay. Terrorist take over the plane, and after letting all of the women and children go, they demand to be flown to England. During the flight the plane is blown up. Gibreel and Salidin find themselves falling through a cloud like tunnel, and miraculously fall onto an English beach. The fall has mutated the two; Gibreel develops a halo while Salidin turns into a goat like creature, not unlike the classic pictures of Satan.
What follows are stories within the story, which is way the book is so long. Gibreel finds he is drawn into other people’s dreams that in turn affect the person’s life. One story within this book is the story of Mohammad and Gabriel which must be why The Ayatollah went off. Mohammed is not to be portrayed in any medium. Changing Mohammad’s name did not change his story though, so again this is why Rushdie was in so much trouble.
The bigger story is of self realization and acceptance of one’s own life. Saladin must come to grips with his Indian background and accept “his people” . He also had to learn to express his feelings. Once he did all of this he was able to become human again. It really was his story, Gibreel was really just a catalyst for his adventure, as Gibreel was for everyone else in the book.
What I really liked about the novel was Rushdie’s use of Irony and Satire. The archangel Gabriel is an avenging angel but Gibreel is a revenging angel. Everywhere Gibreel goes revenge and death follow (except for the story of Mohammad). Salidin becomes human when he allows his feelings to show. In the end it is up to Salidin to avenge those who have been hurt by Gibreel. Though it is a long book it is well worth the time as Rushdie is a master at story telling. If you like deeper/hidden meanings in books and love characters that stay with you for a long time this is a book not to be missed.
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