Wednesday, March 13, 2024

About "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" by Salman Rushdie

 It was pure, unexpected, good luck that I chanced upon a book on CD written by Salman Rushdie, read by Salman Rushdie, in a library in Paducah, Kentucky. My experience of Kentucky outside Lexington or Louisville was that xenophobia was rampant so the library offering a book with such a foreign source of origin was a shock.

The book was "Haroun and the Sea of Stories". I started listening to the book in the car on the way home. It was my plan to listen whenever I drove anywhere. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. This was one of those times. 

The story and the narration were so compelling. I didn’t go home. I veered away at the last minute and went to the lake. I called home and made excuses so I could spend the next five hours listening to the book. I had water. There was a bathroom. I could take walk breaks. Why not?

Haroun Khalifa is the protagonist. He’s a young boy and he starts out believing that stories that aren’t true are useless. Which is sad because telling stories is what his father Rashid does for a living. And even sadder is the fact that Rashid’s storytelling ability is failing him.

Life is further complicated because Haroun’s mother Soraya has left him and his father for their neighbor, Mr. Sengupta. Rashid and Haroun board a yacht captained by Mr. Butt who is taking them to the Land Of K to tell stories for the campaign of a politician named Snooty Buttoo.

Haroun cannot sleep so he is awake when the yacht is boarded by a water genie named Iff whose job is to take away Rashid’s imagination. Haroun demands to speak with Iff’s supervisor, the Walrus in an effort to save his father’s gift.

Haroun and Iff’s journey through the Sea Of Stories is interrupted when they are captured by the antagonist Khattam-Shud who is determined to put an end to stories.

***Slightly off topic – does this sound familiar to anyone? Are there villains today trying to stop the telling of stories that, though true, reveal their villainous natures?***

Many things happen including magical details of Salman Rushdie’s writing that are delightful. P2C2E for example is Processes Too Complicated Too Explain which is a phrase used several times when Iff and the Walrus cannot make Haroun understand something.

Haroun and company, joined by the hero, Mali the story gardener, are investigating the Old Zone when Khattam-Shud kidnaps them. They learn that Khattam-Shud plans on plugging the Story Source at the bottom of the Sea. That source is the origin of all stories ever communicated. Mali manages to destroy the machines being used to poison the sea. Haroun diverts the giant plug meant to seal the source.

The Walrus promises Haroun a happy ending for his own personal story while Khattam-Shud is crushed under a huge statue of himself that he had commissioned.

When Rashid and Haroun return home, their city has been released from the state of misery it was in and Soraya has returned home.

Most of the plot takes place on the fictional Moon Kahani which consists of a massive ocean composed of an infinite number of stories. Each current or stream is a piece of story and Rushdie shows clearly how the pieces connect in different ways to create unique stories.   

It should come as no surprise that Salman Rushdie can write a powerful tale in the genre of magical realism. His personal magic is legendary. While loneliness and the longing for companionship are a modern-day plague, Rushdie in real life meets and marries his wife even while living in hiding because Iran’s supreme leader, Khomeni has issued a fatwa calling for his death.

Rushdie’s genius is recognized with many accolades. He was knighted in 2007 for services to literature. At the same time religious extremists hate him because of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. He was stabbed and almost died during a speaking engagement in New York in 2022.

I only wish that this man who wrote the book which so thoroughly consumed and entertained me was writing real life today. I would embrace a happy ending. I would revel in the justice of leaders destroyed by the weight of their own oppressive, self-glorifying actions. And the victory of the restored freedom to tell any story over the attempts to squash those stories that don’t serve certain factions of humanity, would put a smile on my face everyday for months, years, decades even.

If only…

Imagine by the late, great John Lennon

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