Thursday, 21 September 2017

#25 A book with a number in the title

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days by Salman Rushdie

With an obvious reference in the title to the Arabian Nights, which can be decoded by the curious, if not, slightly mathematically bent, Salman Rushdie’s novel Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights published in 2015, concocts a fantastic fable about the clash of two worlds.

Sometime in the near future, a storm reopens the slits between the Earth and Peristan, a jinni-filled realm above. A war with familiar stakes begins. It pits reason against fear-based religious fervour, and wreaks havoc for 1,001 nights.

Princess Scheherazade in the original tale of Arabian Nights, had spent 1001 nights telling stories to her husband/king in order to avoid being sentenced to death. A desperate act, at a desperate time. Perhaps that is why she has become one of the most skilled storytellers that we know of in literature. Rushdie has long been enchanted by the tales Scheherazade told night after night to King Shahryar to keep herself from death; images from the Arabian Nights can be found woven into much of Rushdie’s fiction.

Jinns are creatures made of smokeless fire
This tale on the other hand is a fantasy filled love story that begins with the life of the rational Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, known as Averroes in the West who lived and taught in Arab Spain at the end of the 12th century. Apparently it seems that Rushdie’s father had changed the family name to honour this same philosopher, hence ‘Rushdie’!

It so happens that a jinnia, a great princess in the jinn world, also known as Dunia (a.k.a. Aasmaan Peri, SkyFairy, Lightning Princess) falls in love with him and comes in the disguise of a beautiful girl and lives with him and has his children, who are given her name instead of his– Duniazat, that is, Dunia’s tribe, the race of the Dunians, which is roughly translated as “the people of the world”.  These descendants of the jinnia spread far and wide, but all have an interesting feature – they all lack earlobes and are very tall - their legacy.

And so, a little less than 1,000 years later, the descendants of the philosopher and the jinnia will find themselves called on to rise up in battle against the dark jinns  who would otherwise have destroyed the earthly world. It is a battle that will last two years, eight months and 28 nights . It begins with a great storm which causes “strangenesses” to happen like people being lifted off the ground, floating a few feet above the earth.  

The resulting sequence is an  interwoven narrative of several unlikely human heroes, a gardener called Geronimo Manezes, a would-be graphic novelist called Jimmy Kapoor,  a vengeful Teresa  Saca,  who will all take on the dark jinns or Ifrits (Zumurrud, Zabardast and Ra’im) with help from the gorgeous Dunia, who returns to help the humans she so loves.
Rene Magritte's Golconda is mentioned in the book - when the 'strangenesses' begin 

Rushdie’s obsession with history and that of identity runs through the story and expresses some of these conflicts in very fine statements:

“History is unkind to those it abandons, and can be equally unkind to those who make it.” (14)

 “A person like yourself, uprooted, not yet re-rooted is what my favourite, Thorstein V. , called an alien of the uneasy feet…..does that sound like you to you?”(32)

"Just as we are created anew by what we love, so we are reduced and unmade by what we hate." (278) 

Combining philosophy, religion, myth, history and magic, Rushdie creates a hypnotic rhythm of a fascinating story, and even with its occasional demerits makes for a highly original and ambitious tale.

No comments: