A hijacked jumbo jet bound for London blows apart high above the English Channel. Two figures, Indian actors of opposing sensibilities, Gibreel and Saladin, fall to Earth, and are washed up on an English beach. Soon curious changes occur -Gibreel seems to have acquired a halo, while Saladin grows hooves and bumps at his temples. They are transformed into living symbols of what is angelic and evil. This is the initial act in an odyssey that merges the actual with the imagined.
Hasta las personas que no leen habrán escuchado hablar alguna vez de este libro y/o de su autor; yo era uno de aquellos a finales de los 80’s. Cuando empezé a leer en el ‘94 sabía que
De sus 9 capítulos sólo la parte 1 del Cap 1 me pareció la más difícil de digerir: la conversa y pensamientos de los hindúes-musulmanos Gibreel Farishta y Saladim Chamcha durante la caída en la explosíon del avión sobre Londres.
En esta primera historia lo interesante es la metamorfosis que se da con la sobrevivencia y renacimiento: Farishta en el Arcángel Gabriel, con aureola y todo, y Chamcha en Shaitan, con pequeños cuernos naciendo de sus sienes, y poseedor de un aliento sulfúrico. En capítulos posteriores la descripción de la metamorfosis del segundo, acostumbrándose a su nueva condición de macho cabrío es magistral.: mucha ironía y humor negro en esos capítulos.
Farishta, actor e ídolo del cine hindúe, y Chamcha, el hombre de las mil y una voces, que se abrió paso haciendo comerciales de tv, ganándose de a pocos un lugar en esa misma indústria, anglófilo, y desencantado de su fé y su cultura, adoptando como suya la inglesa (quizá el alter ego de Rushidie). Luego de caer en la playa londinense Chamcha, en plena metamorfosis, es arrestado y ultrajado por la policía inglesa en el apartamento de Rosa Diamond, mientras que Farishta , vestido con ropas del difunto esposo de ésta es hasta respetado por los mismos policías, sin necesidad de mencionar palabra alguna. Ahí hay un primer punto de quiebre: el angélico guarda silencio mientras ve como su amigo es arrestado y clamándole que cuente a sus captores lo ocurrido, mientras que el diabólico es maltratado, humillado y arrestado injustamente, sin darle la mínima opción de defenderse, ni escucharlo, de decirles que él es uno de los dos únicos sobrevivientes de la explosión de avión.
La segunda historia: Ayesha, la bella joven con su nube de mariposas amarillas que la siguen por donde vaya, que influenciada en sueños por el arcángel Gabriel inicia un recorrido convenciendo a todo un pueblo ir hacia la Meca en una peregrinación bíblica. Aquí también las historias de Mishal, y su esposo Mizra Saed con su ateísmo, tratando de disuadir a su mujer enferma en no escuchar las palabras de Ayesha rinden grandes páginas del libro.
La tercera historia es sobre Mahound (se supone que es Mahoma), el comerciante que se convierte en profeta, quien inicia una religión en un desértico pueblo, Jahilia, y, quien inspirado por el Arcángel Gabriel quien le hablaba en sueños en el Monte Cone incluye unos versos dictados por él, pero luego cree que quien le recitó esos versos fue Shaitan. Rushidie hace ver que ni de Shaitan, ni del arcángel salieron aquellos versos, tan solo de la cabeza de Mahound. Esta historia es corta y una de las menos interesantes en comparación con las dos primeras, pero es la que debe haber iniciado la ira del Ayatolá Jomeini.
Todo un clásico de la literatura contemporánea. Imprescindible
It read much better now. It seems that I have matured into it- age and experience have their advantages after all. I know more about Islam and am possibly more used to novels of ideas with multiple plots and twists and turns. And, a novel of ideas it definitely is. It’s all about identities we have and we assume. It plays quite a bit with the idea of good and evil: What is the nature of evil, how it's born, why it grows, how it takes unilateral possession of a many sided soul, to use Rushdie’s words. The roles we take can make us good or evil as well. Interestingly enough, even being an immigrant is a bit like being Satan himself, as we learn from the dedication. Chamcha, one of the main characters, becomes evil by the sheer fact that he chooses to become an immigrant. Through this he falsifies his past, willingly reinvents himself, becomes false and hence 'evil'. At least until he comes back to the source again where and when it seems his fortune turns and he becomes good again.
By the same token, a religious leader can be good or evil as well. Since religion is based on faith and not on tangible and testable facts, we can’t be sure where religious revelation comes from, or what its real nature is. Rushdie plays with that idea quite a bit and opens it up to some interesting interpretations. Religion can be used for selfish, opportunistic purposes especially when we can’t really be sure if the source of the revelation is divine. Prophets and spiritual leaders may be spurred on by wrong impulses as hunger for power or opportunism. And even if the revelation comes from the divine, God himself, as we meet him in the book, is not a confidence inspiring being.
The novel is brilliant in places and I have enjoyed most of it, but having said so, I must admit that it somehow suffers from lack of focus. My feeling is that Rushdie is trying to comment on too many things at the same time: it’s not only religion that he tackles, but the nature of show business (all these actors who assume multiple personalities as well) angels and demons (two sides of the same personality, perhaps), multiple consciousnesses and different planes of existence permeating each other, racism and mountaineering (above good and evil?), nature of miracles and contemporary politics. It’s all a bit too much and the center point is lost- at least to me.
The book is packed with great moments of brilliance not unlike the kind produced by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of my favourite
I must also admit that part of the reason I wanted to read The Satanic Verses was my curiosity as to how Rushdie managed to get himself into the kind of trouble he got with this book. Now as much contribution to the literary world as people seem to think this book has, I am not sure that it warrants the effort nor the consequences that has been suffered because of its existence.
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.
The Satanic Verses starts with two Indian men, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, who are involved in a plane crash to England that changes Gibreel into an angel and Saladin into a devil. With this basic premise, Rushdie spins a tale about race, religion, morality, language, and the immigrant experience. Things shift in his writing, things change, things morph into other things, bright and shining. There are just so many questions asked in this book that I couldn't keep track of them all, and yet it's not just a book of ideas with characters that only serve to drive the plot along; the characters are rich and their voices are as clear as their stories. Rushdie is a master of the craft, and even though he writes in very specific British-Indian-Islamic context, his story touches upon issues that are universal.
To me, the story line essentially
It is up to the reader to find meaning in any story, including especially its meaning in his or her own life.
I think such stories are successful if they trigger introspection in the reader. How is my life or journey similar to the hero’s? What can I learn from this hero’s journey to guide me in my life. If there is deep religious connotation, or comment, do I agree with the views communicated by the author and the protagonists?
The Satanic Verses is at once allegorical, satirical, whimsical, and oftentimes, to me, far less penetrable in any conventional sense than most of the books we read on a day-to-day basis. Like reading James Joyce, the twists and turns of the narrative require focus and abstract thought. In this regard, I was reminded of my long read of Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr., an allegorical story of my childhood home in Indiana. It took me awhile to get through the 1,500 pages. When I was done I had discovered what I was looking for in those pages. Frankly, I enjoyed the introspection.
In the case of Satanic Verses, my wait was worthwhile. Mr. Rushdie has a wonderful capacity for inducing self-examination. His fine work has earned the rave reviews that it has gotten for the many years since its original publication. It is far more complex than such stories as The Alchemist, yet it is the complexity that provides such rich texture.
From a cultural perspective, I found it a far more difficult struggle to engage the hero in The Satanic Verses, than in Siddhartha written by a German or The Alchemist written by a Latin.
As with any great book, the re-reading after a passage of time will bring even greater insight. I look forward to that time as well.
Unlike others, though, I'm not going to call this a classic. It's a good read, highly enjoyable for what it's worth. It's also a good lens into that particular moment in British culture, and it's still (somewhat) relevant today in 2020. With that said, the message often comes across as heavy-handed, and of course, Rushdie has written better stories since then.
I do not claim to be an academic titan. Nor do I claim to be a spiritual guru. What I am is an avid reader who relishes literary provocation. Salman Rushdie has done just that. Provoked me. And allowed me epiphany.
My journey with Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses began in October. Only this morning (December 27) have I finished this epic work. And upon closing the black, cloth cover I smiled, experiencing a sense of literary completion and edification I have not known in many, many years. Was this an easy journey? No. Reading Rushdie’s novel is not for the faint of heart. The language is dense, rich, much of it in stream-of-consciousness and an Indian patois, and in fact one memorable sentence, which left me breathless, I realized upon review was one entire page long.
I was constantly amazed Rushdie took all grammatical landmarks and demolished them, using language, metaphor and simile to create tension, dream-state and yet still remain highly communicative. I am ashamed to say as an editor and publisher, had this manuscript come across my desk I would likely have returned it to the author after the first few pages. Yet I wonder if I would indeed have done just that, because I kept reading the novel after the first few pages, not because it was Rushdie (I have closed a book before on well-respected authors), but because there was something of mystery in what he presented.
What is The Satanic Verses about? Only Rushdie himself can honestly and accurately answer that question. What I took away from this gigantic work is indeed what the pundits have made commentary, but as well I found a simple allegorical tale of mankind’s inner journey to understand what it is to be human and whole. Rushdie himself writes in the voice of Chamcha that the Satanic verses (doggerel to torment his counterpart Farishta) were his own sin and regret, and that because of his inability to curtail his own inner demons he fed Farishta’s madness and thereby responsible for Farishta’s ultimate undoing.
I will look forward to reading The Satanic Verses again in a year or two. It is a novel and a pilgrimage worth revisiting, and one I am honoured to have as part of the foundation our personal library.
My opinion: it's good. But it's certainly not worth dying for. (As a translator already has, and two others have barley survived assassination attempts).
Interestingly, the main
Mostly, I would say the book is about the experience of Indian - British immigrants. Rushdie explores the psychological conflicts through a story of two Indian men, both average, but one who's really rather a self-centered jerk. Falling from a plane which was victim to a terrorist attack, the two miraculously survive, but one becomes a sort of avatar of an angel, and one of a devil. Intertingly, the roles are reversed - the more 'decent' guy becomes the devil, growing horns, and the self-centered film star developing a halo.
In exploring these identities, especially that of the archangel Gibreel in Islamic mythology, is where Rushdie moves into supposedly 'blasphemous' territory, including a historical depiction of Mohammed, and a strong implication by the Prophet's personal scribe that he is a fraud, making up religious rules to suit his whims. There's also a funny, satirical episode where a brothel decides to make more money by having their whores role-play the parts of the Prophet's wives.
I suspect that Rushdie underestimated the response these scenes would get. It's pretty clear from the book that Rushdie is probably an atheist. But it's also very clear that the scenes in question are satire. They're almost incidental to the main plot of the book (which takes place in the present day), and also to the main
idea of the book, which has to do with the concepts of "Indian-ness" and "British-ness" and personal identity.
I'd say the novel is definitely worthwhile for its insights into human nature, but it does have a tendency to meander, and the colloquial language that Rushdie uses can occasionally come across as a bit too 'clever.'
Some years ago, whilst taking part in a brief course on the history of modern India, I picked up Rushdie's Midnight's Children and thoroughly enjoyed it. The style was lucid, inspiring, at times witty, the plot meaningful, its events engaging and powerfully written. Unfortunately, The Satanic Verses is in comparison an utter disappointment. The book is simply difficult to like, try as one might. Rushdie's writing, despite still being very imaginative, colourful, even amusing, is for the most part unnecessarily convoluted. The book's plot is divided into various threads spanning time, space and reality, with enough levels, characters and subplots that the reader has to pay extreme attention not to become lost. Some of the characters go under different names, or names are shared among different characters, while the main characters undergo enough physical alterations, that trying to juggle the figures in your imagination becomes a feat in and of itself.
Written style aside, should you find yourself able to understand Rushdie's message – and thanks to the written style it's easy not to 'get' – I simply can't find very much worth recommending. If you are looking for examples of novels centred on the interplay of good and evil, issues of identity or multiculturalism, the parody of religion, or even merely novels featuring magic realism, there are simply so many better, easier, and more enjoyable works available, even from Rushdie's own pen, that this work wouldn't get a look in.
As other reviewers have said, were it not for the fatwa this book should probably have disappeared off most people's radars without much word of comment. That it didn't is unfortunate, since I don't think this book particularly lends itself to many people, yet so many pick it up to find out what all the fuss was about. It is a frustrating and convoluted read, and while there are beautiful and intriguing passages which reminded me of what made Midnight's Children so enthralling, these are ultimately pretty small fish for sieving through 500 other pages of nigh-on impenetrable packaging.
There was a lot of fuss about this book which I suspect is the main reason it became so successful, and I confess the chapters I liked the most were 2 and 6, which focused on Mohammed and the "early days" of Islam. I liken those parts to other books which tell of religious figures in an alternate way, e.g. "The Last Temptation of Christ", which make one think about it in a different way, and point out hypocrisy. I do think it's unfortunate that Rushdie used the name "Mahound" and was incendiary, but maybe that comes along with the package. The book would have been far better had it been more cohesive and focused.
This turned out to be my least favourite Rushdie novel so far (although, I read Fury so long ago that I can't remember any details), but it wasn't bad by any means. On the good side, the characters and settings were very well fleshed-out, as usual (and there were a great many of them), and they were quite varied. On the bad side, the intertwining stories, while interesting and good enough in their own right, seemed disjointed from one another, and I wasn't satisfied with how they connected in the end. I'm also at a loss as to what the central theme was supposed to be. Faith? Alienation? Racism? Probably a combination (or all) of the above. Not that it matters too much - I never was one for analyzing books to death.
On the whole, it was longer than it should've been, but enjoyable nonetheless. Plus, it was well worth the read just to see what the whole controversy was about.
"To be born again", sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, "first you have to die".
But the book is disjointed and jumpy. Rushdie moves from idea to idea; Gibreel and Saladin keep on changing location, situation, and circumstance. I feel like keeping track of who was where when would have been hard under normal circumstances. I kept on not being sure when Saladin looked like a devil. I wasn't always sure how the dreams of Gibreel fit into what was going on. So it's hard for me to judge the cumulative effect of the book, because for me there was no cumulative effect of the book. I have snatches I liked (Ayesha the butterfly woman, Alleluia Cone, Saladin's childhood) and snatches I didn't like (some of the stuff (though not all) with Gibreel in the present). And the one part I did read as a big section-- the last 150 pages-- I was reading so hurriedly I suspect the effect was diminished. It never quite came together, though, and so I'm not really sure what to think of it. I want to like it, and I suspect I would if I gave it another read... but at 800 disjointed pages, that's a heckuva commitment. We're doing Midnight's Children in a class I'm taking next semester; I'll render a further (and hopefully better) verdict on Rushdie then.
Need to reread. Still, good memories of the work. The prose was quite good, after the