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Book Club: Satanic Verses


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The Satanic Verses29 April

review by Mala Raman

At our last discussion evening, we talked about our very challenging read, The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie.  While most of us did not finish the book, all agreed that Mr. Rushdie does not make it easy for his readers.

The quick plot summary: Just before dawn one winter’s morning, a hijacked jetliner explodes above the English Channel. Through the falling debris, two figures, Gibreel Farishta, the biggest star in India, and Saladin Chamcha, an expatriate returning from his first visit to Bombay in fifteen years, plummet from the sky, washing up on the snow-covered sands of an English beach, and proceed through a series of metamorphoses, dreams, and revelations.

So why did most of us try so hard with The Satanic Verses? For a book to engender such a farrago of praise, death and destruction, it must be worth the read.  It was thought to be so controversial, so blasphemous, that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie. It became every Muslim’s sacred duty to hunt down this writer of fiction and kill him. Wait now, this book pissed off people enough that they want to kill him? Wow. We must read this book. It’s gotta be good.

This book had plenty of Magic Realism, but what it did not have was plenty of was editing. This book is overwhelming. It’s long, complex (storylines that involve overlapping characters and storylines that don’t overlap in time or space at all), dense and occasionally slow. It is not for the reader with ADD. No matter how quickly you think you might read, reading this book will slow you down. No matter how determined you are to catch every single detail and nuance of this book and what it means, you will not.

The Satanic Verses is not a simple, clear-cut tale that you can distill to a single statement or fragment of moral. There are many, many layers, and many things Rushdie wants to bring out into the open. Some of his messages even appear slightly contradictory, and yet that’s part of the pleasure of the experience; this book will have you thinking and asking questions about your perceptions of the world around you, the home you live in and the people with whom you share it.

For our new book, we choose something by a Dutch author that has been very much talked about lately. We hope you will get and read this interesting book and join us to share ideas and impressions after the summer.

The Dinner, by Herman Koch (352 pages)
An evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet for dinner.
They need to discuss their teenage sons.
The boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on CCTV.
They remain unidentified – except by their parents.
How far will each couple go to protect their child?

We will meet to discuss this interesting book on Wednesday, September 18th – 19.30/7:30. (The location will be announced in September.)

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