Forbidden to laugh
The news of the stabbing of Salman Rushdie (2022.08.12) has made me want to celebrate once again this wonderful, hilarious satyrical novel. Which I now want to reread. I just found my handwritten review from my journal, written shortly after its publication. Here I’ve typed it out, as a place-holder for what should be a more thorough, thoughtful essay, taking account of the extreme violence for which this very clever comedy has been a pretext:
(From my journal, 2 April 1989:)
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses. NY: Viking, 1988. 547 pp.
Gibreel Farishta, star of countless Indian “theologicals,” and Saladin Chamchala, an Anglicized Indian actor who specializes in voices for commercials, are blown out of an Air India plan, the “Bostan,” over London and tumble, unhurt but transformed, to earth. Gibreel, whose movie name (not his real one, which I forget) means Gabriel Angel, becomes — at least in his dreams and his later madness, and possibly in fact — the Archangel Gabriel. Saladin Chamchala — shortened from the Urdu, Salahuddin Chamchawalla — becomes goat-like, with horns, hooves and an enormous prick; is he satyr or Satan?
Farishta is the perfectly eclectic Indian, absorbing all the religions and accepting all the customs of his homeland and thinking the English are a bit weird. At one point, believing himself to be the archangel, he decides to tropicalize England — giving it a tropical climate will improve everybody’s behavior, he believes.
Saladin is the hyper assimilated Indian, loving England more than the English do.
Much of the book is taken up with Gibreel’s dreams, first of the founding of Islam (“Submission”) by Mohammad (“Mahound”), and later of another, modern Ayeesha, a young girl who leads a whole Indian village on a pilgrimage to Mecca, in which those whose faith is strong walk through the Arabian sea.
Ending is disappointing… [but I won’t give it away here: read the book and have some good laughs, at the contradictions and improvisations of immigration and transcultural confusion].