Posts Tagged ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’

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


Random House

218 pages

ISBN: 9780679783473

Source: a friend!


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This delightful ‘fairy-tale’ is something for the young and the young at heart.  However, like all good fairy-tales, and given this is Salman Rushdie, there is a very serious thesis at its core.  Haroun’s father, Rashid, who goes by the name of the Ocean of Notions, or less admiringly: the Shah of Blah, is a master storyteller of Arabian Nights calibre.    Rashid is “stuffed with cheery stories” until his wife – and Haroun’s mother – deserts them.  In a flash, Rashid loses his story-telling powers and what comes next is a magical fantasy ride of strange creatures, figures, and places – a quest that Haroun and Rashid take to try to rescue the power of storytelling.

Haroun and Rashid travel to the ‘second’ moon Kahani, where Haroun plans to find the means to return his father’s story-telling powers.  However, the moon is in a turmoil of its own as Khattam-Shud, the master of silence and darkness has kidnapped the pompous Gup Prince’s bride-to-be.  Worse still, the shadows of Khattam-Shud – evil overlord of the Chupwalas – are poisoning the ocean which is made up of all the streams of stories, and are also in the process of plugging the wellspring where new stories are born.  Haroun and Rashid inevitably find themselves helping the good Gupees.

This slim and multi-layered book – perfect to read as bedtime stories for youngsters, (or perfect under-the-covers reading for the rest of us!), has a serious side, as all good fairytales do: stories vs silence – the battle to keep storytelling alive and vivid in the face of dumbed-down masses that live in the world of silence.  “Freedom of Speech” is a gift to be utilised.  Rushdie’s message is the power of fictional stories to frame and inform our understanding of life.

Like Rashid, Rushdie is a master storyteller – which gives rise to the very personal allegory involved here.  This is Salman Rushdie’s first book after The Satanic Verses – which had resulted in the fatwa for his ‘heretical’ story.  , Writing under the protection of MI5 and exiled from his son – to whom the book is dedicated, Rushdie in a way has had his own storytelling powers threatened and stolen – and he wants them back.  Like Haroun and Rashid, he battles a shadowy enemy: religious zealotry.

There are numerous examples of speech vs silence, light vs darkness, the material vs shadows.  The Gupee half of the moon is constantly in sunlight, whilst the Chupwalas are in constant darkness.  Furthermore, there is wall between their two worlds, named ‘Chattergy’s Wall’ after the Gup King.  This sense of the building of walls between vastly different cultures also has a basis in real life, with the invisible wall between the West and the Middle-East.

Magical things abound, such as the ‘plentimaw’ fish who travel in pairs and who talk in rhyming couplets; flying horse machines that talk and have removable brains that are the mythical creatures one uses to get to Kahani; water genies; floating gardeners; shadows who fight – and in some case separate – from their owners; the list goes on.  They all help Haroun in his battle against the dark-lord’s shadow.  All standard fairy-tale fare, but delivered with Rushdie’s playful and rampant imagination.  He adds layers that beg to be interpreted.  Names, for instance, are important.  Haroun and Rashid for instance, are taken from the “legendary Caliph of Baghdad, Haroun al-Rashid, who features in many Arabian Nights tales.  Their surname, Khalifa, actually means ‘Caliph’,” and there are many other examples.

I am a big Rushdie admirer, particularly his earlier books such as The Moor’s Last Sigh and Midnight’s Children and the short stories in East, WestHaroun and the Sea of Stories, written in 1990, sits firmly within the best category of this early work.  He has recently come back to something like top form, with the very good Enchantress of Venice after the less successful Fury and Shalimar the Clown (which I so wanted to love, but was a little let down by some aspects as well as the ending).  He recently was quoted as saying he would soon write the story of his exile under the fatwa.  I can only hope it is as adventurous and interesting as his finest work.

If you enjoy ‘adult’ fairy-tales with magic-realist elements (and what good fairy tale doesn’t have these?!), or are an avid Rushdie fan, then you’ll enjoy this.  If you have young kids, I’d recommend giving it a trial run on them … (unless they’re too busy twittering or facebooking of course!)

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Granta Books

ISBN: 9780140140354

218 pages

Source: Personal Library, aka: ‘Bookshelf Rainbow’.

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