Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (TPR #19)

There is a shelf in my home library that I affectionately call the Power Shelf. Sitting together there, so nicely, are Marilynne Robinson, Salman Rushdie, and John Steinbeck. Sometimes, it makes my heart smile just knowing they are there. These are three of the most important writers in my reading life, and I'm glad to hear of Rushdie's PEN/Pinter Prize today. I read The Satanic Verses and Midnight's Children in college and was changed by them both. It was The Moor's Last Sigh that really brought this blog to life back in 2010. He is simply one of the best in the business, and I'm always thankful for his work and his words.

He's also one of those voices collected in the Paris Review Interviews collection that sparked what I call the TPR Challenge. Here's the post where it all kicked off, or you can go to the tab above to see the full list and progress (with links). It's funny to me that I thought the project could take as much as a year (!) four years ago. Ha! My original plan was to read his Luka and the Fire of Life, which I still want to read, but after a colleague raved about his Haroun and the Sea of Stories, that's what I chose most recently, and it was wonderful. This little novel is accessible to a young audience while still being engaging and thought-provoking to the adult reader. It tells the story of young Haroun, his father, Rashid Khalifa, "whose cheerfulness was famous throughout that unhappy metropolis, and whose never-ending stream of tall, short and winding tales had earned him not one but two nicknames. To his admirers he was Rashid the Ocean of Notions, as stuffed with cheery stories as the sea was full of glumfish; but to his jealous rivals he was the Shah of Blah," and their adventures to save the Ocean of the Streams of Story on the Moon, Kahani. It is a smart and entertaining tale that introduces magical realism to young readers beautifully. In fact, this passage from the book explains the idea well: "He knew what he knew: that the real world was full of magic, so magical worlds could easily be real."

I highlighted several passages, but here is perhaps my favorite:
'But it's not as simple as that,' he told himself, because the dance of the Shadow Warrior showed him that silence had its own grace and beauty (just as speech could be graceless and ugly); and that Action could be as noble as Words; and that creatures of darkness could be as lovely as the children of the light.
This is no easy fairy tale with a typical hero narrative. It challenges our Rushdie does much with the idea of contrasts and duality and multiple perspectives. He comments on this idea in the interview:
My life has given me this other subject: worlds in collision. How do you make people see that everyone's story is now a part of everyone else's story? (Vol. III 361)
Here he explains how it is he became such a "political" writer:
The larger world gets into the story not because I want to write about politics, but because I want to write about people. (366) 
I agree with him on that point and love the way he puts this on democracy:
The question of how shall we live is a never-answered question. It's a constant argument. In a free society we argue about how we shall live, and that's how we live. The argument is the answer, and I want to be in that argument. It's democracy: the least bad system available. (385)
There is much more in the interview and in Haroun. I encourage you to read them both, to share Haroun and the Sea of Stories with the young people in your life, and maybe even to (like me) pick up Luka and the Fire of Life and keep enjoying this particular side of the always fascinating Salman Rushdie.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my favorite books and the only one I've read by Rushdie. Obviously, I need to fix this error!