Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review: Luka and the Fire of Life (Back with Rushdie the entertainer!)

It has been a while since I wrote about books I am reading.  Other topics have dominated Brick and Rope recently.  If someone was going to get books back on this blog, past readers must know it had to be Rushdie.

I have been a fan of Rushdie's ever since I started reading.  Midnight's Children is one of the best books I have read in my life.  For soaring imagination that leaves you gasping, for metaphors that are as daring as they are cheeky, for the sheer pleasure of reading the English language, there aren't many that can compare with Rushdie.

Luka and the Fire of Life comes rather quickly on the heels of his other recent book The Enchantress of Florence.  The two books couldn't be more different from each other.  My wife is an occasional reader of Rushdie, and in her opinion one of the best books he has written to date is Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  This is not an uncommon viewpoint.  Written while he was in exile after the Satanic Verses fatwa, Haroun is certainly the most accessible of Rushdies.  Written as a gift to his first son Zafar, the book was an allegory cum fantasy cum magic masala that appealed to readers of all ages.  Luka and the Fire of Life is written in much the same style as Haroun, and is meant to be a gift to Rushdie's second son Milan.

The main characters of Haroun continue on in Luka, though the protagonist now is Haroun's younger brother.  The surreal, children's book style continues as well.  We have guest appearances from some of the more endearing concepts from earlier, like P2C2Es.

Most of all though, we reconnect with Rushdie the entertainer, the Shah of Blah.  The playfulness of language, the shameless puns, the Capitalization.  They are all back with a vengeance.

[Luka] landed with a thump in the riverside dust and it rose up around him in a little golden cloud, which quickly formed itself into a creature, like a tiny living flame with wings.  'Feed me and I live,' it said hotly.  'Give me water and I die.'

The answer was obvious.  'Fire,' Luka said quietly, and the Fire Bug grew agitated.  'Don't say that!' it buzzed.  'If you go shouting fire at the top of your voice somebody will probably come running with a hose.  To much water around here for my liking anyway.'


'You want to know what bugs me?' the Fire Bug said indignantly.  'Nobody's friendly about fire.  Oh, it's fine in its place, people say, it makes a nice glow in a room, but keep an eye on it in case it gets out of control, and aways put it out before you leave.  Never mind how much it's needed; a few forests burned by wildfires, the occasional volcanic eruption, and there goes our reputation.  Water, on the other hand! - hah! - there's no limit to the praise Water gets.  Floods, rains, burst pipes, they make no difference.  Water is everyone's favourite.  And when they call it the Fountain of Life! - bah! - well, that just bugs me to bits.'  The Fire Bug dissolved briefly into a little cloud of angry, buzzing sparks, then came together again.  'Fountain of Life indeed,' it hissed.  'What an idea.  Life is not a drip.  Life is a flame.  What do you imagine the sun is made of?  Raindrops?  I don't think so.  Life is not wet, young man, Life burns.'
This is vintage Rushdie.  The kind of fun writing I fell in love with in Haroun.  And I am glad to see it come back into his increasing dark and rather difficult writing of late. 

Also back are allegorical references to the present that were so often to be seen in the Rushdie of past.  Luka, while on his perilous adventure, comes upon the Respectorate of I, a land ruled by rats, with a barbed wire contraption (the O-Fence) going all around, and where 'present occupants take Offense very sharply indeed.'  Any resemblance to lands present are purely coincidental?

Do you believe two and two make five?
Do you agree the world is flat?
Do you know our Bossss is the Biggest Cheese alive?
Do you Ressspect the Rat?
O, do you Ressspect the Rat?

If I sssay upside down is the right way round,
If I insissst that black is white,
If I claim that a sssqueak is the sssweetest sssound,
Do you ressspect my Right?
Say, do you Ressspect my Right?

Do you agree nothing's better than I?
Do you approve of my hat?
Will you please ssstop asking what, how and why?
Do you Ressspect the Rat?
Do you, don't you, don't you, do you,
Do you Ressspect the Rat?
As I said, any resemblance is purely coincidental.

Not everyone will like Luka.  There are many reasons not to like it.  It is cheesy, for one.  Kiddish.  Lame.  Harry Potter lite.  But for a Rushdie diehard like me, there is enough to cheer on.  Enough to rekindle old love.

Yes I do, I do Ressspect the Rat.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Loved the excerpts. Dying to get my hands on the book now.