Saturday, December 19, 2015

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days by Salman Rushdie

By all means do not allow the reputation of Salman Rushdie prevent you from reading his latest novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days.  Like all his works – with the possible exception of The Satanic Verses – his latest novel contains jokes, puns, humor, and erudition of every sort.  According to his website, Rushdie has won numerous awards from around the world, including the U.S., France, Germany, The European Union, Mexico, Italy, Hungary, and India, to name only a few.  He holds honorary doctorates and fellowships at six European and six American universities, is an Honorary Professor in the Humanities at M.I.T, and University Distinguished Professor at Emory University.  His list of humanitarian and cultural awards from around the world is equally impressive.  His Booker Prize winning novel, Midnight’s Children, was adapted for the stage in London and New York, and by a public vote, the novel was overwhelmingly named the “Best of the Booker.”  It was also turned into a film and translated into forty languages.  Only the Nobel Prize eludes him, which, in my opinion, stems from the unfortunate uproar surrounding the publication of Satanic Verses.  He is truly an international literary treasure.

Deep in to the novel, Rushdie provides an interesting theory of “story.”  He writes, “We tell this story still as it has come down to us through many retellings, mouth to ear, ear to mouth, both the story and the poisoned box and the stories it contained, in which the poison was concealed.  This is what stories are, experience retold by many tongues, to which, sometimes, we give a single name, Homer, Valmiki, Vyasa, Schererzade.  We, for our own part, simply call ourselves ‘we.’  ‘We’ are the creature that tells itself stories to understand what sort of creature it is.  As they pass down to us the stories lift themselves away from time and place, losing the specificity of their beginnings, but gaining the purity of essences, of being simply themselves.  And by extension, or by the same token, as we like to say, though we do not know what the token is or was, these stories become what we know, what we understand, and what we are, or, perhaps we should say, what we have become, or can perhaps be” (182-183).

Admittedly, reading Rushdie requires great concentration, lest the reader miss out on all the fun.  My review will concentrate only on the second chapter, which has all his powerful attributes at full strength.  The novel revolves around the tales in the style of the thousand and one tales of Scheherazade; that is, the story of a jinniri, Dunia, who slipped between worlds and interacted with ordinary mortals.  Some of these jinni (male) or jinniri (female), were good, some evil, but all were mischievous.  Ibn Rushd fell under the spell of the princess of the jinniri, and she produced thousands of children, all of whom had no earlobes.  Her group of jinniri were known as Duniaz├ít, and Rushd forbade her to take his name for any of the children.  Hundreds of years later, a descendant of Dunia, Raphael Heironymus Manzes known as Mr. Geronimo Manzes, had no earlobes.  When the slit between the worlds opened again, jinni and jinniri poured into our world, wreaking havoc known as “The Strangenesses.”  Geronimo was affected when he suddenly found himself unable to touch the ground with any part of his body.  He had been away many years, and found the new Bombay – Mumbai – dramatically different.  Rushdie writes, “It was the garden that spoke to Geronimo.  It seemed to be clawing at the house, snaking its way inside, trying to destroy the barriers that separated the exterior space from the interior.  In the upper regions of the house, flowers and grass successfully surmounted its walls, and the floor became a lawn.  He left that place knowing he no longer wanted to be an architect.  […] Manzes made his way to Kyoto in Japan and sat at the feet of the great horticulturist Ryonosuke Shimura, who taught him that the garden was the outward expression of inner truth, the place where the dreams of our childhoods collided with the archetypes of our cultures, and created beauty” (35).  

Salman Rushdie’s intellectual allegory, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days, brings to one time and place – the present – and lays all the problems and difficulties we face from climate change to financial collapse at the feet of the jinni and jinniri.  The web of “Magic Realism” stories Rushdie has spun will enchant and dismay at times, but those tales will always intrigue.  5 stars

--Chiron, 12/18/15

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