Monday, March 06, 2017

The Satanic Verses

Wow. So, The Satanic Verses is a long, long book. It is not an easy read, especially the first half. By about the last third, I felt like the story picked up more and I was actually interested in finishing it. By the final third, all the twisting, complex storylines were being brought to completion. Some of the subplots I thought were interesting, but didn't need to go into such detail. My main interest was in what happened to the main characters, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. They fell, unharmed, from the sky. Why? What would they do with this gift of life? Though it wasn't easy, it was worth reading.

Should I address the controversy first? I always wondered what Salman Rushdie could have written that would have so incensed the leader of Iran to issue a fatwa calling for his death. Was the book blasphemous? Maybe. Was it making fun of Islam? After reading it, no, I don't think so. I think it was giving a different perspective or using certain events and the life of Prophet Mohammed (uwbp) to inspire a story, reflecting on the feelings of immigration and displacement. Also, within the context of the story, this is Gibreel's dream. In his dreams, he is the angel, watching the Prophet in these sequences. I don't think Rushdie was saying anything of what he wrote actually happened. Gibreel's mental state created this dream. I've read that Rushdie was surprised by this reaction. He thought some people might be angry, but he didn't think there would be so much violence surrounding it. Who would think their novel would create such vitriol? The amount of controversy it stirred, the bannings in so many countries, the burnings, of course this was something I would want to read. I could go deeper into the fatwa and whether it was actually used properly, the refutations by Islamic scholars, Human Rights violations, but I don't think that's necessary here. What I want to talk about is the story, the plot and the characters.

The entire novel had a dream-like quality to it. So much of what happens to Gibreel seems like a dream or vision. Saladin's experiences seem rooted in horror. Unlike Gibreel, Saladin has rejected his past, his roots. He has tried extremely hard to acclimate to his new country. He loves London and wants to be a Londoner. He wants to leave his youth behind. This is the opposite of Gibreel, who is a big part of Bollywood and life in India, though he too leaves, but he leaves for love. He meets Allie and she changes his whole world. There are a lot of things that change Gibreel, besides the fall. He's very reactionary, listening to others' voices instead of relying on his own, even though he dreams that he is the voice that speaks to the Prophet. Saladin goes through a lot of changes too, though many of his are physical. Is Saladin's ordeal reflective of what he goes through as an immigrant in a land that does not necessarily respect him? What about the people he meets who are like him? Are they also displaced migrants? There is so much beyond controversy in this novel. There are stories, allegories, emotion upheavals, mental breakdowns, and strange changes.

I don't think I can explain the complexities of this novel. There was a lot happening. There were a couple of times where I considered quitting, but I just had to know what happened. Like so many novels, it was the characters that kept me going. I wanted to know if Gibreel and Saladin would come together again and what the consequences of that would be. I wanted to know if Gibreel and Allie would stay together. I wanted to know what choices Saladin would end up making. Besides the main characters, I also wanted to know about Mishal, Baal, and Ayesha. I wanted to know about Saladin's father, Nasreen II, and Zeeny. So, maybe I took a couple breaks here and there, but knew I had to finish it. Of all the characters, Saladin's journey was the one that had me the most unsure. I didn't know if in the end I was going to like his character. A lot of bad things happened to him, but he did bad things too. I wasn't sure if I was going to like him in the end. I am still not sure if I like him, I just know he was a character I couldn't turn away from.

After all the ups and downs, and not knowing how it was all going to turn out, I liked The Satanic Verses. I don't think it's for everyone, definitely not a casual read, but it was worth every minute I spent with it.

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