Today I have to read the Satanic Verses

My Freethinker Banned Book club meets later this week and I suppose I should actually start the thing so I know what we’re talking about. I’ve read books this thick in a day but those had wizards and Quidditch in them. This already looks a little less fun.

Salman Rushdie made a few headlines this week. He’ll be publishing his memoir in 2012. Articles are touting it as quite the coup for Random House and Knopf Canada.

The deal was arranged by Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie.

“It’s been both a huge privilege and a pleasure to have published Salman in Canada since 1992,” said Louise Dennys, Knofp Canada’s publisher “He is a writer of extraordinary power and a mesmerizing storyteller — and in his own memoir he has a truly remarkable tale to tell. It is one of the most riveting memoirs I’ve ever read, and beautifully written. I know the thoughtfulness with which Salman has undertaken this book, and am overwhelmed by the insight, honesty, and humanity he is bringing to it. We’re looking forward to publishing it with equal passion and commitment.”

He plans to finish the book by the end of 2011.


edit (approx. half hour into the book, or 6:30am): I take back the “little less fun” line. Two guys “miraculously” survive falling from an airplane, one of whom was a movie star who played so many gods on film he’s become the face of god to all his fans. But it looks like the devil did the saving…

(And I see I’m going to be learning lots of new words, like dabbawala. The internet is ever so handy.)


7:10: The story goes back to the past after that first part to explain his childhood, his orphan status, his using of women. Later, Gibreel becomes an atheist after a near death experience convinces him there really is no Allah after all. Even though he recovers as mysteriously as he fell ill, he uses his new lease of life to escape his handlers and gorge himself on bacon.


7:40: The other one who survives is also an actor and atheist. More story from the past – Saladin once worshiped his father more than Allah but now Dad’s gone off the deep end with the worshiping of that supernatural deity and Sal’s lost whatever respect might have been left for the man, blaming this increased obsession on his step-mother’s influence. He’s also glad to consider himself British, something he’s wanted to be all of his life, apparently, judging by how desperate he was to get to London.


7:58: pausing to applaud Rushdie’s amazing writing ability. Oh, he has a way with words that is going to spoil me. Never will I be able to read a trashy novel again. And yet, I laugh at the trashy stuff he throws in:

“She made love like a cannibal and he was her long pork.” – page 53

That’s awesome.


8:10: for further reading The Tragedy of Assam — Rushie’s characters refer to some horrors in that particular state of India and what it ultimately says about the country and the people who call it home.


8:27: for further reading: Rushdie on Akbar’s Hamzanama art

To call India a ‘Hindu nation’ is to ignore this multicultural heritage which was assimilated and encouraged by Muslims, Hindus and Christians alike. History presents to all us all the facts, and while we should keep in mind all of them, we can decide which facts serve as beacons for visions for the future. Should we learn from the resplendent Akbar’s tolerance and celebration of all religions, or the ruthless Auranzeb’s temple-smashing bigotry?


8:40: not getting very far. Laughing at page 99 where Rushdie created a character that foreshadows Glenn Beck — “And I say this then and I say it now to you. If I believed my great-granddaddy was a chimpanzee, why, I’d be pretty depressed myself.”


9:35: The fictional Glenn Beck, Sal, and Gibreel are hostages on an airplane that has set down in the desert while the hijackers get their act together. The American has made himself too unpopular with all his screaming and carrying on, and has been booted from the plane with a broken jaw and half his tongue sliced off by his own teeth on account of wagging his tongue at the time of the injury.


10:06: not much further in on account of breakfast and a phone call. Further reading: The Satanic Verses controversy

Rushdie’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, and several other elements of the novel, are also considered highly controversial or outright blasphemous. According to Islamic Studies scholar Anthony McRoy, these include the use of the name Mahound, a derogatory term for Muhammad used during the Crusades; and the use of the term Jahilia, denoting the ‘time of ignorance’ before Islam, for the holy city of Mecca. In addition, in Rushdie’s novel a film star becomes the Angel Gibreel (Gabriel), whilst a character named Saladin, (named after the great Muslim hero of the Crusades) becomes a devil. Also, the character of a fanatical Indian girl who leads her village on a fatal pilgrimage is called Ayesha, which is also the name of the wife of Muhammad.

Perhaps most offensive to Muslims, in Rushdie’s novel the brothel of the city of Jahilia is staffed by prostitutes who take the names of Muhammad’s wives.[13] Since Muslims believe that the wives of the Prophet are ‘the Mothers of all Believers’, they esteem them.


10:35 I’m guessing the Jahilia stuff is the dream Gibreel has been plagued with ever since he scoffed all that bacon? He’d been trying to explain to Saladin why he didn’t want to sleep on the plane. I feel too stupid to read this book but maybe I’ll be smarter when I finish.


10:51 finally the book is in the present or at least at the point where the men hit the coast of England and are rescued by a woman who lives nearby. But, Saladin (now sporting devilish horns) winds up arrested and Gibreel (who’s vaguely angelic in aura) does nothing to stop it.


11:35 Saladin, now looking like a satyr instead of a human being, has escaped the hospital and surprised his wife who’s been sleeping with an old friend and positive he’d died when the plane exploded.


11:50 Ayesha has been introduced as a beautiful epileptic orphan girl who winds up having a dream that the archangel Gibreel has made her his wife and people around her are religiously gullible enough to put faith in that pronouncement.


12:30 Sal has lost everything he cared about in life, and his career to boot, but Gibreel is about to relaunch his career, apparently by filming up a version of that crazy ass dream. Sal feels he has every reason to hate the man, and this realization helps him regain his “humanity” — or at least the look of it. Something tells me getting rid of the look of the devil will be easier than getting rid of the attitudes…


1:30 Ayesha is part of Gibreel’s dream sequence, as is the whole Submission religion, the whore house where every woman takes the name of a wife (including Ayesha) and the people most vocal about the way of life Submission demands.


5:21 got bored reading around 2 or so and instead got a casserole ready, watched Doctor Who and a great Spanish flick called Time Crimes which was an appealing little time travel piece of genius. I’m at page 411 of the book at least, so it won’t be a hard thing to get finished – just a hundred and some pages to go. Tomorrow’s project.

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