Book Review: The Satanic Verses

10 06 2010

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

Anyone familiar with this book will know that this is pretty much the father of modern controversial literature. Banned in several countries and causing the first instance in which a government publicly called for the death of a private individual, resulting in the death of a little more then 40 people to date, ‘The Satanic Verses’ has certainly caused quite a stir in the Muslim community.

‘Verses’ opens with the story of two Indian actors who have survived an explosion of a hijacked plane over the English Channel. After the fall, both actors begin a metamorphism. Gibreel Farishta, the easygoing and womanizing, Bollywood actor who specializes in playing Hindu gods takes on the characteristics of the archangel Gibreel. Contrastingly, Salidan Chamcha, the strict and uptight voice actor, is dead set on escaping his Indian heritage to fully embrace anglicization, takes on the characteristics of a demon, even so far going as growing horns and hoofed feet.

The narrative through out the book is framed, with the first main event leading up to several smaller stories and subplots both before and after the explosion that eventually lead up to the book’s climax. His writing style is punctuated by defying conventional rules on proper grammar, often combining words to make longer ones, and lines of dialogue are typically short – opting instead to recount details afterwards in the third person perspective. Parts of the book may be hard to follow without a general knowledge of Muslim and Indian history; Hindi and Arabic words as well as allusions to Muslim history and religion are thrown in with the assumption of previous knowledge. These will send more curious readers scrambling to the bookshelf (I suggest ‘Islam: The Straight Path’ by John Esposito).

Ultimately, this book is about the immigrant experience in Britain, hybridization, and alienation. It is also my belief that while Rushdie’s purpose was to tell the story of immigration, he had a secondary purpose of creating controversy and taking a jab at extremist Muslim clerics through the various subplots. One example would be a dream sequence in which Gibreel comes to the prophet Muhammad. Except in this he is referred to as Mahound, the derogatory name given to him by Christians during the crusades, and exploits the common suspicion that Muhammad faked some teachings to better suit his needs.

For: Readers interested in controversial books and those interested in Muslim history and controversy.

Rating/Worth It: 9/10. Some of the narrative can be hard to follow and a few subplots which seem to be purely inflammatory and abstract. Otherwise it’s a great read, which you won’t be able to put down.




3 responses

11 06 2010

I’ve wanted to read this book for a while, sort of a “I wanna see what all the fuss was about”… type thing. Have you read anything else by Rushdie?

11 06 2010

Unfortunately I can’t say that I have. I don’t know much about his other writings, but what I do know is that Satanic Verses is far from his most acclaimed novel. In fact, while it is good and I recommend it, it came to only mildly warm critical reception. His earlier books, most notably ‘Shame’ and ‘Midnight’s children’, I hear are extremely good and I think ‘Midnight’ is on my list to read next by him. Another thing I can tell you is that his narrative form stays the same and he employs a lot of magic realism.

14 06 2010

Mmm… I think I’d rather read one of his earlier works before Verses, it might make his form and possibly intent more acceptable.

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