Regular readers will know that Salman Rushdie is one of my favourite authors. I’ve read many of his novels, including favourites Midnight’s Children and The Moor’s Last Sigh. Luka and the Fire of Life is a sequel to the delightful Haroun and the Sea of Stories (see my review here). They are both children’s adventure stories that are aimed at ‘tweens’ or YA – it was written for Rushdie’s 13-year old son – but are equally entertaining for those adults, myself included, who just love a good tale well told with lots of entertaining wordplay on almost every page.
Luka is the younger brother of Haroun, and at twelve years of age is due an adventure. The beginning sees Luka and his story-telling father Rashid, the so-called Shah of Blah, walking home from Luka’s school. They pass a circus, run by the cruel Captain Aag. Luka laments the maltreatment of its many animals and wishes that Aag’s animals rise up in revolt against him. The wish turns out to be a curse which works and soon Bear the dog, and Dog the bear, appear on Luka’s doorstep and become his loyal companions. Aag retaliates by placing a curse on Rashid who falls into a deep state of unconsciousness. Nothing can wake him.
One day Luka looks outside and thinks he sees his father in the alley. He rushes out to greet him but as he crosses the threshold he stumbles into the World of Magic. The man he saw was no man and no father, but a sort of ‘pre-ghost’, who calls himself Nobodaddy, who is slowly sucking hte life out of Rashid and who will ‘un-be’ when the real Rashid finally carks it. The only way Luka has of saving his father is to steal the Fire of Life. He sets out with Nobodaddy and his dog and bear friends, entering a kind of video-game world where he and his friends store lives to begin with and then lose them along the way as they try to get to the next level and the next, all the way to level 8 where they can steal the fire, then level 9 where they make their way home. While in this world, Luka has a three-digit number in the corner of his vision which indicates how many lives he has left.
There are so many wonderfully inventive touches throughout. Rashid has given names to his two hands: No one and Nonsense. When he tickles Luka, he says he’s not tickling him at all, that in fact ‘No one’ is tickling him. When Luka protests he tickles him with the other and tells him it’s Nonsense. When Luka is on his adventure, they pass along the River of Time in which worms live that “made holes in the very fabric of Time itself” (ie, ‘wormholes’). And there’s a wonderful swirling maelstrom known as El Tiempo and the Loops of Time, which Rushdie playfully uses to repeat sentences and sections of prose over and over while the band of adventurers are stuck, freeing up new prose as soon as they exit. There’s also enough ancient god references – Greek, Roman, Persian, African, Asian, American – to satisfy a classical history professor! It’s wonderful stuff.
Along the way, Luka learns good morals, like the need to run towards your problems rather than away from them. Ultimately, Luka and the Fire of Life is a story about the power of story. How else to rescue the life of a story-teller? If you enjoyed Haroun and the Sea of Stories, you’ll love Luka, (though there’s no need to have read the first to enjoy the latter). It’s great fun from cover to cover.
Rushdie’s next book is to be his memoirs. For someone who has lived through the fatwa after publishing The Satanic Verses, during which he lived in protective custody for years, it should be a fascinating read. Before then, though, there’s a film version of Midnight’s Children to see, which Rushdie wrote the screenplay for. It has just premièred and I can’t wait to see it.
Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie
Source: a friend!