Tim's Reviews > The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
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Aug 29, 2012

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Read in August, 2012

For eight days we wrestled. "The Satanic Verses" and I locked in heaving struggle. At times it nearly escaped as I chased it uphill, my straining hand holding fast its heel as it wriggled; then I myself would seek respite from the battle, clutching for the out-of-bounds only to be pulled back in. But we finished the struggle, and were better for it.

"The Satanic Verses" is, I suspect, one of the most unread of best-sellers. It is, indeed, a cantankerous beast with sections that one must slog through, but overall I think its reputation for impenetrability is somewhat undeserved.

The novel deals with migration, intermingling, hybridization of people, religion. The novel opens with two Indian actors with British ties and sensibilities falling from a plane blown up by terrorists over England. One, Gabreel Farishta, apparently comes to Earth as the archangel Gabreel (or its avatar), wearing a golden halo. The other, Saladin Chamcha, grows into a horned, hoofed devil. The two try to come to grips with their (temporarily) changed forms and try to cope with the struggles of life, their pasts and their relationships, romantic and familial. Gabreel experiences dreams in which he apparently is the angel he seems to be. This includes Rushdie's recreation/alteration of the prophet Muhammad's (here Mahound) supposed divine revelations, the Satanic verses of the title, and whether Mahound has himself altered these verses.

Gabreel has modern visions, as well; he supposedly inspires a village to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in which the people will cross the Arabian Sea, which they think will part for them.

When Rushdie first moves to the story of Mahound, the novel hits, temporarily, a brick wall that I was tempted not to clamber over. It is slow and disorienting at first. Our second visit to this vision, later, is much more involving. And the stories of Ayesha and her village's modern pilgrimage is by turns ponderous and incredibly beautiful (butterflies follow them, lighting on Ayesha like a blanket).

I expected to be baffled by what exactly was happening at times. I really wasn't; my problems in comprehension dealt more with just exactly what Rushdie was up to. Though I see the interconnectedness of the past and present visions and the story of Gabreel and Saladin (who slowly plots a revenge on Gabreel after the two have been separated in the wake of their miraculous fall to Earth), I occasionally was confused by just how Rushdie wanted us to relate them to each other. Just what is Rushdie, in the overall, going on about?

I really think Rushdie (and this novel in particular) would benefit greatly from end notes. Just as, with old classics, we might not in modern times understand archaic words or objects, so the non-Indian (or Britain-ized Indian) probably doesn't have a good understanding of Indian words or, particularly for me, Islam. Annotated edition, anyone?

It's hard to separate "The Satanic Verses" from the fatwa declared on its author that put him in fear for his life for many years. It contributed greatly to its readership (or those who owned it in curiosity and soon gave up on reading it at all). I don't claim to know much about Islam or Muhammad, though calling for someone's death because of a few small scenes in a novel seems, er, a tad extreme.

"The Satanic Verses" is a sprawling and voluminous creature. I don't think it, on the whole, is great. A paring down and a sharper focus would have helped. But Rushdie is one hell of a writer; that's what carried the day for me. If I missed some of the nuances of how all of it tied together, I delighted in Rushdie's use of language, and there are several moving scenes. A section late in the book at the death bed of a character is just lovely.

Would I recommend the book to others? Maybe. But NOT if: this is your first Rushdie (try "Midnight's Children"); you want a linear, easily comprehensible plot; you get frustrated when the plot doesn't to go where you want it to; you have to understand everything; you are impatient. Otherwise, if you're adventurous, have a go.
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06/20/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Aristotle A pretty fair review, there's not much I would like to add myself. Midnight's Children and even Shalimar The Clown were better attempts than this one. Metaphor-intensive like other Rushdies, but this one doesn't have much to boast in terms of storyline or setting.


Elizabeth Allen So glad I read Midnight's Children first!


message 3: by Tim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tim Are you reading it now? It's the rare book that I'd recommend a perusal of the plot outline or a check of Cliff's Notes or something; I think it would help. Looking back on my review, I think I feel better about reading the book than came across. I think I have a little better understanding now of what Rushdie was up to than I did then. Still think some tightening and focus and a little more clarity would have helped the book a bunch, though.


Elizabeth Allen I am and I completely agree with you on all counts!


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