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Stories of the streets
on 21 October 2011
The question of identity; both in a geographical, cultural and personal sense, has always been at the heart of Rushdie's works, and nowhere more so, than in 'East, West'. Containing nine short stories (three from 'East', three from 'West' and three from 'East, West'), this is a book which deals with everything from immigration and religious fanaticism, to the identity of Shakespeare's Yorick, and Neil Sedaka songs; with the results ranging from sublime, to decent. The 'East' stories are of a more straightforward nature than their 'West' counterparts, but are also more successful - bringing together superb imagery, musings on tradition and religion, and creating some memorable characters; whereas the tales of 'West', whilst interesting to analyse and dissect, trip over themselves in a manner slightly too self-conscious and convoluted. That said, they still provide an interesting counterpart to the other two sections, and are far from being without merit, in and of themselves.
The final of the book's three sections, 'East, West', is definitely the book's best; especially 'The Courter', the final and longest tale, which deals primarily with the unspoken love between the brain-damaged 'Mixed-Up', and the Indian migrant 'Certainly Mary', as well as it's narrator's own teenage heartbreaks, set to a soundtrack of Sam Cooke singles and Roy Orbison's soulful vocals. Fans of Rushdie will undoubtedly find much to like in 'East, West', even if it understandably lacks some of the epicly powerful scope and oustanding characterisation seen in longer texts, such as 'Midnight's Children' and 'Shalimar the Clown'. For the uninitiated, this is also a good place to begin with Rushdie's works, a book that is readable, thought-provoking, and characteristic of Rushdie's idiosyncratic style.