Thursday, December 2, 2010

Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie - and Rushdie himself

Let me set the scene: you are the youngest son of an acclaimed storyteller, the shah of blah. You have grown up hearing his stories, and tales of your older brother’s adventures. You have a dog names Bear and a bear named Dog. And tragically one day your father falls into a sleep so deep noone can save him. An insubstantial version of your father, Nobodaddy, appears to tell you that to save him you must journey through the world of magic and steal the Fire of Life, something that has never been done before.

And of course you don’t hesitate (why would you? Your father’s life is at stake). As in so many video game you can collect (and lose) lives, save the levels you win, make allies along the way, see things you never believed possible, and ultimately live through your father’s stories. Can you beat the Old Man of the River, for example, in a contest of riddles? Will the Insultana of Ott let you ride on her magic carpet? Can you persuade the old forgotten gods to help? Along the way you meet those who help and those who hinder, characters you recognize, and those you don’t but will never forget, like elephant birds and worms that eat holes in the fabric of time.

Hard to compare, this is an adventure, an ode to inter-generational love, a place where the magical and the real worlds collide, and includes mythological creatures from almost every culture. It touches on truth and freedom, talks of the power of storytelling, the importance of the imagination and of family, the nature of time, and will please both adults and children alike in oh so different ways. And of course is beautifully written.

From the review above, can you tell how much of a fan I am of Mr Rushdie's writing? And we had the enormous honor of hosting him at Kepler's last night. (I'm still a little high from the experience.)He was wonderful. One of my literary idols, a writer I admire tremendously, for his writing certainly but also for his courage. And he walked in by himself, no security guards, his driver trying to find somewhere to park. Unassuming, funny, warm, well he charmed us all. He talked about his writing, and the new book, and how long it took to get published after leaving university, and about being in Bridget Jones’ Diary. How he at one point wanted to be an actor, about how bad he was at video games, about Elvis Presley and being on stage with U2. (Oh, and how Bono wanted to write something with him but that every idea Bono had was terrible.) He read a few passages from the book. He chose the part with the riddles (of course). For example: What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? You can find out on page 87 (or ask me). And then took a ton of questions. It was clear he loved to talk to his audience, was interested in so many things. From poetry to music to history, he had stories about everything.

A little background: Rushdie is the author of 11 novels, a book of stories, and three works of non-fiction. His second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Prize in 1981. His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, was the center of a controversy, drawing protests in several countries and a fatwa against him in 1989. Midnight’s Children has been adapted for the stage, and was performed in London and New York. And the New York City Opera premiered an opera based upon Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

He has received many plaudits for his writings, too numerous to list here, but they do include the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel (twice), the Writers’ Guild Award, the European Union’s Aristeion Prize for Literature, Author of the Year Prizes in both Britain and Germany, the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. Rushdie was also the President of the PEN American Center from 2004 to 2006. He holds many honorary doctorates and fellowships, in 2007 he received a Knighthood (so he’s Sir Salman Rushdie), and in 2008 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and letters. In addition, Midnight’s Children was named the Best of the Booker – the best winner in the award’s 40 year history – by a public vote. (And is my favorite book!)

His books have been translated into over forty languages and a film is currently in production of Midnight’s Children (and no, he doesn’t want a cameo – I asked – he thought it would be too distracting). What next? He’s writing his autobiography apparently.

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