Author:- Salman Rushdie
Publisher:- Viking Press
ISBN Number:- 0-312-27082-8
No book in modern times has matched the uproar sparked by Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, which earned its author a fatwa from Iran's Ayatollahs decreeing his death. Furore aside, it is a marvellously erudite study of good and evil, a feast of language served up by a writer at the height of his powers and a rollicking comic fable. The book begins with two Indians, Gibreel Farishta, who has been for fifteen years the biggest star in the history of the Indian movies, and Saladin Chamcha, a Bombay expatriate returning from his first visit to his homeland in fifteen years, plummeting from the sky after the explosion of their jetliner, and proceeds through a series of metamorphoses, dreams and revelations. When the jumbo jet blows apart above the English Channel, Gibreel and Saladin are the two who survive and are washed to an English beach. However, it soon becomes clear that curious changes have come over them and that they have been chosen as protagonists in the eternal struggle between God and the Devil.
Rushdie's astonishing powers of invention are at their best in this Booker Prize shortlist and Whitbread Prize winner. Salman Rushdie is the author of Midnight's Children, winner of the 1981 Booker Prize, and Shame.
The Satanic Verses is a novel which falls in the genre of Magical Realism (a beautiful paradox of our modern times), of which we see much in Gabriel García Márquez's works.
It tells the story of the enchanting Gibreel Farishta who rises from being a pauper in Bombay to a popular filmstar playing Hindu deities in Bollywood mythologicals. The humor in the novel commences when Gibreel refuses to make love to his female admirers with the elephant snout on, which he has used as a prop for playing Lord Ganesha in a movie and which his fans have come to fancy. He complains that an acting career in Bombay is quite less of acting and much more of frantic travel between studios trying to keep schedules.
It also tells the story of the misplaced Saladin Chamcha, who develops an English accent so refined and immaculate that he lends his voice to British radio shows. He shuns his father who loathes books and had sent him away from Bombay to study in Britain. He returns after a long period of absence only to find that the city of his childhood has changed in a quintessential measure.
On his return trip to UK, Saladin Chamcha meets Gibreel Farishta who has absconded in order to meet his flame Annie Cone, the Mount Everest conquerer whom he courted in Bombay. The plane gets hijacked and all but the two protagonists of the novel - Chamcha and Farishta - are dead. The two are washed ashore on the waves of the English Channel, only to find that there has been a major change of roles. Gibreel thereafter suffers hallucinations of being an archangel, while Saladin is transformed into a chimera representing the devil.
Saladin miraculously recovers from the transmogrification and plots his revenge against Gibreel for refusing recognition and help when Saladin was led into custody by policemen. Like Iago, he plots the murder of Annie Cone at the hands of the suspicious and jealous Gibreel Farishta himself. In the climax, Gibreel shoots himself when he realizes what a mistake he has committed.
The novel also runs the course of three mini-plots: The first comprises the tale of Mahound's revelations from Archangel Gibreel, Hind - Mahound's fiercest opponent and Baal - the irreverent poet. The second speaks of the Imam and his gang of terrorists. And the third and most beautiful story is that of Ayesha, the girl who leads poor villagers on a Haj pilgrimage after convincing them that if God willed it, the waters of the Arabian Sea would part to make way for them.
The novel has ample instances of Rushdie-style humor and sarcasm. The narrative though broken into four parallel threads of narration is held together in a very cohesive manner. Rushdie's implicit commentary on the racism prevalent in UK is commendable and should have been the focus of attention, rather than the much publicized and denounced fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini against him. However, the novel is not as erudite as it could have been. It is in no way grand or profound, and does not seek to reveal something that the reader is unaware of. Definitely not one of Rushdie's better novels.
The book was banned in many countries including Iran and India, for propagating the theory of The Satanic Verses - those verses of the Holy Quran which were revealed to the Prophet by the Satan and which he later retracted as being part of the Holy Book of the Moslems. It was fortunate that Salman Rushdie survived the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, since the Japanese translator Igarashi was murdered, and the Italian translator Capriolo suffered serious physical injuries due to being stabbed.