Obviously I picked up this book, because of the controversy surrounding it. As a strong believer in free speech, any book that raises this kind of reaction, for me becomes immediately interesting. After reading the book, I suppose I can understand why it has caused the reaction it has, thou of course the reaction just is way over the top.
It follows two main characters Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, both Indians but living outside India as foreigners. This theme of immigration and of being a foreigner is one of the main themes of the book. How people try to find their place in the world. This theme is seen in lot of the people they meet; and I suppose there is a specific focus on Indians living in London. The alienation and how the immigrants are torn between the two cultures, the clashes between the old and the new. There is the constant struggle to choose between the two or try to combine them.
The other main theme in the book is on their metamorphosis as they become something more than mere humans. This is the novel's other theme, good and evil, and how they are intertwined. And it is in this aspect, that islam is used as a background. Thou in my opinion, the good/evil aspect, while interesting and raises a few points, doesn't really give anything so profound as the immigration aspect does.
The whole story is very surreal and follows in parallel multiple story arches set in various places and times, all to some extended magical and sometimes very surreal. All this requires the reader to remember multitude of characters to be able to follow multiple story lines.
It's not a light read; while the text is very beautiful and descriptive, I noticed I was reading this at a much slower pace than I normally do. It's not something you would pick up to read on your holiday at the beach. But especially would recommend it to expatriates and immigrants, or really to anyone interested in a book that caused all the fuzz. Some knowledge of India and islam will definitely help; although I have some knowledge of both, I think I still missed some things in that regard.