Friday, February 11, 2011

386. The Satanic Verses – Salmon Rushdie

History: The book was first published in 1988 and inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. The title refers to the so-called "satanic verses", a group of alleged Qur'anic verses that allow intercessory prayers to be made to three Pagan Meccan goddesses.
In the Muslim community, the novel caused great controversy for what many Muslims believed were blasphemous references. As the controversy spread, the book was banned in India and burned in demonstrations in the United Kingdom. In mid-February 1989, following a violent riot against the book in Pakistan, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran and a Shi'a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa calling on all good Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers, or to point him out to those who can kill him if they cannot themselves.
Following the fatwa, Rushdie was put under police protection by the British government. Despite a conciliatory statement by Iran in 1998, and Rushdie's declaration that he would stop living in hiding, the Iranian state news agency reported in 2006 that the fatwa would remain in place permanently since fatwas can only be rescinded by the person who first issued them, and Khomeini had since died.
As of mid 2010 Rushdie has not been physically harmed, but others connected with the book have suffered violent attacks. Hitoshi Igarashi, its Japanese translator, was stabbed to death on 11 July 1991; Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator, was seriously injured in a stabbing the same month; William Nygaard, the publisher in Norway, barely survived an attempted assassination in Oslo in October 1993, and Aziz Nesin, the Turkish translator, was the intended target in the events that led to the Sivas massacre on 2 July 1993 in Sivas, Turkey, which resulted in the deaths of 37 people. Individual purchasers of the book have not been harmed. However, the only nation with a predominantly Muslim population where the novel remains legal is Turkey.
Plot: The two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, are both actors of Indian Muslim background. Farishta is a Bollywood superstar who specializes in playing Hindu deities. (The character is partly based on Indian film stars Amitabh Bachchan and Rama Rao.[3]) Chamcha is an emigrant who has broken with his Indian identity and works as a voice over artist in England.
At the beginning of the novel, both are trapped in a hijacked plane during a flight from India to Britain. The plane explodes over the English Channel, but the two are magically saved. In a miraculous transformation, Farishta takes on the personality of the archangel Gibreel, and Chamcha that of a devil.
Farishta begins to develop an angelic halo, while Chamcha metamorphoses into a cloven-hoofed devil complete with horns and bad breath. Both men suffer, in different ways, the brutality and indignity of their transformations in Rushdie's evocation of a tense and brooding London. Ultimately it is the `demonic' Chamcha who finds fulfilment by returning to India, the `angelic' Farishta is not so fortunate. Merging fantasy and reality, Rushdie uses the subversive excesses of `magical realism' to explore the demands of migration and how those demands can destroy the fragile assurances of identity and belonging most of us take for granted. Farishta is haunted by the nightmares of his lost Muslim faith, Chamcha by the impossible dream of reinventing himself as an Englishman. Through these and the experiences of other often outrageously conceived characters, Rushdie reflects on how people suffer, and are made to suffer, for the sake of a little certainty.
After being found on the beach, Chamcha is taken into custody by the police, who suspect him of being an illegal immigrant, while Farishta looks on without intervening.
Both characters struggle to piece their lives back together. Farishta seeks and finds his lost love, the English mountaineer Allie Cone, but their relationship is overshadowed by his mental illness. Chamcha, having miraculously regained his human shape, wants to take revenge on Farishta for having forsaken him after their common fall from the hijacked plane. He does so by fostering Farishta's pathological jealousy and thus destroying his relationship with Allie. In another moment of crisis, Farishta realizes what Chamcha has done, but forgives him and even saves his life.
Both return to India. Farishta, still suffering from his illness, kills Allie in another outbreak of jealousy and then commits suicide. Chamcha, who has found not only forgiveness from Farishta but also reconciliation with his estranged father and his own Indian identity, decides to remain in India.
Review: It is a story of India and Britain, and the inevitable clashes between, brought on by their long, and turbulent history together. It is a story about personal identity, racial identity and religious identity. It is a story of damnation and redemption, love and betrayal, betrayal and forgiveness. His argument is against God's misuse for the purpose of controlling or subjugating people; that submission is not for normal human beings. Normal human beings wrestle with God, have doubts, questions, even anger. "What kind of idea are you?" He asks repeatedly throughout the book. "How do you behave when you are weak?" - Bend, compromise, in order to survive? "How do you behave when you are strong?" Hard, unyielding, pure? or Forgiving and merciful?
But even while all these heavy questions are being considered and discussed, Rushdie never loses his sense of humor.
However, Rushdie repeatedly criticizes, and even ridicules, the Islamic faith, in ways both subtle and overt, throughout this entire book. By issuing his death sentence upon Salman Rushdie's head, Ayatollah Khomeni drew widespread attention and sympathy for a talented writer who might otherwise have gone unnoticed outside his own circle of interest. Khomeni also demonstrated what power mere words could hold over those who rule by the absolutism of ideas.
Opening Line: “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta, tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.”
Closing Line: “I’m coming,” he answered her, and turned away from the view.”
Quotes: "From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable."
Rating: Awful, I just can’t stand Salmon Rushdie.

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