on 20 August 2011
"The Satanic Verses" is a novel which has been overshadowed by its history. Published in late September of 1988, it was on February 14th in 1989 that a fatwa was issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini against the author Salman Rushdie (Happy Valentine's Day, Salman). The claim was that the book was very insulting to Muslims, and the controversy itself caused many who had never read the book to issue strong opinions about it. It also had the effect of getting many to buy it that otherwise would not have, and stop people from buying and reading it who otherwise might have. I'm sad to admit that I fall into the latter category, having allowed the controversy to steer me away not only from "The Satanic Verses", but from all of Salman Rushdie's works. The loss has been mine.
A story dealing with immigration into a different culture, and the loss of faith, the sections which caused the controversy are the dream sequences of a man who believes he is an angel, and even in the sequence which most applies to the prophet then the names are altered, though clearly Mahound is intended to be a representation of the prophet Muhammad, it is a representation which takes place in the dream of a delusional character. So ultimately, the controversy is about a piece of fiction which includes dreams from an unbalanced mind, and that is pretty much all that needs to be said regarding the supposed blasphemy, and of course free speech still allows one to write what one will, so even if it were blasphemy the violent response to it has been nothing short of obscene.
I found "The Satanic Verses" a difficult read as I struggled with some of his terms, and the narrative structure. It is a very complex storyline, and though I suspect I only picked up on a small part of the totality of what Rushdie included, it was well worth the effort, and this is a book which I will be re-reading in a few years to see what I missed the first time through. I also will be correcting my mistake of not reading any of Rushdie's other works as I see no reason to deprive myself of such great works simply because others found offense.
The book is comic, with biting commentary not only on religion, but on politics and the secular and capitalistic west. The story is about two Indian actors that are miraculously saved after their plane is blown up by terrorists. One (Gibreel) comes to believe he is an angel), and the other (Saladin) transforms into a devil. The title itself does refer to a controversy early story from the early days of Islam. The story is about the devil tricking Muhammad into indicating that the worship of three pagan goddesses was allowed, but later learning from Gabriel that the devil had tricked him with a false recitation, i.e. a Satanic Verse.
on 26 July 2012
This is an amazing novel, which isn't given ample credit due to all the nonsense surrounding it.
It's not a breezy read. The prose is elaborate: expect long sentences and big words throughout. This is Rushdie's style, and some people don't like it, finding it impenetrable (or aren't bothered to penetrate it). But really get stuck in, because this is a brilliant novel.
The two main characters fall to England from an exploding plane, then undergo wacky transformations into a devil and an angel. Through their tortured London lives, Rushdie explores the migrant experience and the merging of people and cultures. Good and evil are entangled together in the characters of both men. The result is a vast, layered moral/social dialogue.
The narrative of the prophet Muhammed is genuinely brilliant. It caused a big - fatal - fuss, because it depicts Muhammed admitting the existence of the old Polytheistic deities, then taking it back. Rushdie also brings Muhammed's general reliability into question. For instance, he returns from a lonely ramble in the desert, proclaims to have been contacted by Allah, then gives orders accordingly. What's ingenius is that Rushdie never tries to convince us that Muhammed is a liar - he merely raises the prospect. We, as readers, form our own conclusions.
The story is genuinely engrossing and comic. The characters are deep and tortured. Some of the other reviewers on here seem to have been expecting a beach read. This certainly isn't - it's so much more than that!
on 31 January 2016
I read this book with a view to better understanding the divisions between the faiths. As is often the case, I found myself entering a different world than I had imagined. At first I found this book hard to read. It is not the kind of thing I would normally go for. At the beginning two men fall from the sky as a result of a bomb on a plane and survive and one of them becomes the devil incarnate and grows horns. So I found myself having to relax my usual literary expectations and prejudices and just go with the flow if you like. I gave up trying to relate one chapter or even page, to another and just tried to enjoy it this way, which did work in a way I`m pleased to say. Rushdie treats language as a malleable medium and again I had to make adjustments. There is plenty of amusing and interesting material here even if the plot may seem fantastical! There are some interesting views of the British and their culture as seen from an Asian perspective.
But on the whole I found this book hard to follow. I was left with the feeling that a second read would probably help but there is just too much other material waiting to be read. I also had the feeling that I am probably not part of the target audience if the author has one, and the work appeared somehow inaccessible, but then I would not be arrogant enough not to say that perhaps this book is simply beyond me.
on 23 October 2013
An extraordinarily long, dense and complex novel but definitely worthwhile reading. It is about the experiences of two Bollywood actors, Gibreel and Saladin, who emigrate to the UK in the 1980s. The main themes are that of mental illness, racism, police brutality and multi-culturalism in 1980s London. At the heart of the novel are a series of complex dream narratives set which are sympomatic of Gibreel's developing schizophrenia. They also contain the passages which offended so many people of the Muslim faith. The Satanic Verses isn't an easy read, but I found it preferable to Midnight's Children. As with that book, there are flashes of wit and humour throughout.
Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" has polarised opinion to an extent almost unprecedented in the modern era. Some people have viciously condemned the book for its "blasphemous" references to Islam and confusing narrative, while others have applauded the novel for its unique characters and clever storytelling. In reality however, although "The Satanic Verses" remains an intelligent work of fiction, it is ultimately a very difficult and frustrating read.
The story revolves around the two characters Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha who miraculously survive the destruction of an airliner jet. Upon falling thousands of feet through the sky and washing up on the shore of a small English town, Gibreel finds that he has acquired a halo while Saladin begins to develop hooves and horn-like appendages. What follows is an epic tale in which both men come to terms with their transformation, and what this all means in the world's eternal fight between good and evil.
The main problem with "The Satanic Verses" is the unique and original - yet extremely confusing - way in which it is written. Rushdie constantly shifts the narrative between numerous characters, subplots and realms of reality, which requires an awful lot of effort on the part of the reader in order to merely understand how the story is progressing. I have an A-level in English Literature and a postgraduate degree in Middle East studies and although I realise that this does not automatically make me an expert on the subject matter of this book, I believe that the difficulty I had in reading it reflects just how unnecessarily complex the storytelling is.
That said, there are a number of positive aspects to "The Satanic Verses". Although as I have mentioned, the story is extremely confusing and even convoluted at times, I cannot fault the scale of Rushdie's imagination. At times I was forced to sit back and admire the bizarre nature of the events that unfolded and the depth of the various colourful characters that were scattered throughout the story. There are also a number of genuinely funny and heart-warming moments throughout the book that helped to make my journey through this grand tale more enjoyable.
However, I find it very difficult indeed to recommend this book. If you are looking for a straightforward, light read then this is not it. If you are looking for a classic piece of modern fiction then this is not it. If you are looking for a good example of Rushdie's work then this is not it either (instead, I would recommend either "Midnight's Children" or "Shalimar the Clown", which are both more accessible and enjoyable). The only person I could recommend the "The Satanic Verses" to is an individual who wishes to make up his or her own mind as to what all the fuss is about, and who doesn't mind the difficulties associated with constantly shifting narratives and subplots.
In short, I did not ultimately enjoy reading this book. Epic, intelligent and funny at times it may be, but the extremely confusing manner in which "The Satanic Verses" is written tested my patience and at times left me frustrated. If truth be told, I honestly believe that the novel would have disappeared and been forgotten had the supposed "blasphemous" references towards Islam in this book gone largely ignored, no fatwa declared on Rushdie and no resulting media circus taken place.
Even so, as I mentioned at the beginning, no book has polarised opinion to quite the same extent as "The Satanic Verses" - you either love it or hate it. The best advice I can give anyone is to pick up a copy, approach it with an open and patient mind, and decide for yourself.
on 2 March 2010
After the noise, the furore, the Fatwa, the hiding, the essays, the op-ed pieces: here's the book. And how initially disappointing it is. As if Rushdie were stretching to outdo the genius of Midnight's Children, attempting the great postcolonial novel, create the storm that eventually swamped him. The two main characters - Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha - are thin, practically cyphers, and the plot is as turgid as the sometimes ridiculous prose. But the Rushdie of Midnight's Children is here - the nimble, goat-like writer who leaps from rock to metaphorical rock, constantly questioning, always undermining our expectations. The book is very long and one could quite understand if the Fatwa had been carried out on aesthetic grounds so dreadful are some of the scenes containing the prophet. But worth reading if only to comprehend this early battle in the war of belief that came to define the Millennium.
on 29 July 2007
Don't you think it's about time you made up your own mind about the most controversial book of the modern era? If nothing else, it will give you an opinion the next time the media gets its knickers in a twist about what is, at the end of the day, a work of fiction
But it will give you so much more than that. There is everything you expect from a Salman Rushdie novel: vast in scope, vivid in portrayal and seriously bizarre. As the author has often pointed out, it is also darkly comic and often hilarious. It is a vastly satirical meditation on the theology of religion, the struggle between human doubt and belief and, above all, the power of stories to change the world. Themes of race and immigration flow through the book alongside the usual contemporary and classical references. Reading a Salman Rushdie book is like reading nothing else, he is wholesomely devious, wonderfully irreverent and completely unique. His is a style of writing brimming with delightful sentences, so beautifully worded as to be like some fabulous cocktail: refreshing and invigorating and with that little kick of something you know is truly special.
The story revolves around the lives of Gibreel Farishta, legend of Bollywood Cinema, and Saladin Chamcha, the voice of radio, the man of a thousand voices. When their plane is blown up by terrorists high above the English Channel they float slowly to earth, as though divinely spared certain death. It soon becomes apparent that there is more to their escape than meets the eye. For while Saladin Chamcha begins to sprout horns, cloven feet and a forked tail, Gibreel Farishta seems to be shrouded by the glow of a halo. Confronted with dreams of past prophets Gibreel sets out to change the world. But as the lives of the two men become increasingly entangled within the social climate of the 1980's the clarity of Gibreel's belief becomes cloudy and we are left questioning where enlightenment ends and madness begins.
Salman Rushdie is a breath of fresh air in this tense and divided world: the antidote to community relations rather than the cause. Read this book, and make up your own mind. Because that is what Rushdie is all about, not dogma, not fear, but making ones own mind up, questioning the world, and being able to laugh at oneself. Rarely has a knighthood been so thoroughly deserved.
on 19 April 2014
A weird book with various stories that appear to interlink. I read this more out of curiosity than anything. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a read unless you are just curious like me.
on 14 June 2008
I bought The Satanic Verses for many different reasons.... the main one being to see why there was so much contorversy surrounding the book....
Even though the book in my opinion was very cleverly written with highly intriguing characters, I don't know, I just didn't enjoy the book. Whilst reading the book I was disappointed as I thought it would offer me more than what it did, which was hardly anything. As a Muslim, I wasn't as offended as others because I thought the book was a higly imaginative work of fiction. I found the characters in the book very intriguing and completely fell in love with the characters of the young teenage girls as I thought they were hilarious and correctly portrayed young teenagers. I liked the cross of cultures and the surreality of certain aspects of the text. I thought the idea of good and bad, and what is really good and bad very intelligent and also thought provoking. But even then, I just didn't enjoy the book. Maybe it was because the text was so small... maybe because there was too much imagery, maybe because it just didn't have that little something in it for me.
I see a lot of mixed reaction to this book, which is good as not everyones opinion is the same, but for me: the book was very intelligent but I just didn't enjoy it.
I do recommend it however, to most people. As its one of those books that everyone should read and draw their own opinions of. I need to read his other books to compare them against this one.
Not very helpful as a review I know. Sorry. I'm just torn bewteen my opinions of this book.
on 4 September 2013
Shortly after publication in 1988 I was given a copy of The Satanic Verses but for 25 years the book lurked on a bottom shelf thus neglected and ignored until during the lengthening evenings of retirement I finally decided to read Salman Rushdie's still famous great wheel of a book. A reader is certainly in divided company for reviews on Amazon swing between those who pay tribute to accomplished story telling, originality of subject and interesting character studies to those who dismiss the book as confusing, dull and tendentious. The book is written in a highly singular non linear style in which the past, present, locations and dream sequences jostle for a temporary supremacy. It is often difficult for the reader to remain fully conversant with developments but the final result is worth occasional bouts of impatience. Despite the erratic style the book is not a difficult or demanding read and is quite a page turner.
This middleweight fantasy is not a work of genius and the continuing fame is linked to the death sentence passed on the author. Rushdie has a number of targets in his sights, including the British police and immigration service and the strictures, aimed at Islam (involving the future status of three local goddesses) are mild in comparison and far less openly offensive than the depictions of the prophet which appeared in the Danish press some years ago. The book was published less than 10 years after the advent of a radical theocracy headed by a doctrinaire theologian who would tolerate absolutely no dissent and consequently a serious man of letters was forced to take sanctuary in unwarranted oblivion. To his credit Rushdie managed to come to terms with intolerable seclusion and formed worthy relationships with many of the police officers responsible for his safety. Here his attitude differed markedly from a number of British politicians, often Conservatives, who regarded protection officers as additional baggage handlers, car washers and farm labourers.