Paula expressed my experience reading the first chapter of Salman Rushdie’s the Satanic Verses: “a book that draws on a literary and cultural tradition so removed from my own that I couldn’t “get” the references, and acquiring the necessary background seemed impossible.” (this post)
I’ve owned this book since college and have been meaning to get to it since then (suffice it to say, er, two decades). I finally started it earlier this summer for the Books That I’ve Been Meaning to Get To party, and, like Paula says, I know I’m missing something, and I am unhappy with just plogging through to the end.
So, I decided that I needed some prep-work. The first stop on Three-Step-Plan to reading The Satanic Verses is Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Rushdie (1990).
This is a fantasy, no bones about it.
The boy Haroun’s father is a storyteller with a magical gift of gab. Too bad, his stories dry up, and Haroun must save his father by taking a journey to the Sea of Stories. It’s a wishy-wobbly squooshy-wooshy story told with puns and juxtaposed references to advertisements and popular culture from two hemispheres. Reading this, I feel like Rushdie’s a puppet master, pulling at the strings of my gutteral language instincts, taking me along on a wild dance.
The writing here is everything that English can be. English is an asshole language, stealing things and breaking all the rules, mushing things together and making new. I went into this book keeping in mind Anil Menon’s comments about Indian-English being just another form of modern English (“Spanglish”, anyone?). That was from the panel I got to attend at ReaderCon. I think my experience reading Haroun would have been very different without Menon’s enlightening thoughts at that panel.
There are over a million words in English because it is such a whore… I mean, a global language. Rushdie is a total power-lifter of this language. He brings to English the lyricism and rhythms of the other languages he speaks, able to share them with me, a monolithic, monlingual barbarian. I can hear other places, contents away in Rushdie’s English.
So, having familiarized myself with Rushdie’s global mastery of English, I am moving on to Midnight’s Children. 140 pages in, and already I am very, very glad I read Haroun and the Sea of Stories first, as there are similar references and play-on-words. Haroun was a total new experience, a delight, but short enough to be an edible chunk. Midnight’s Children is more of a study-book, in that I can’t read it when I’m bleary-eyed and I have to read a little every day and even take notes. (I know, crazy!).
Forgive me, I’ll be a while with Midnight’s Children, this fucker’s six-hundred pages.