Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Salman Rushdie, Author
Salman Rushdie, Author Viking Books $18.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-670-83804-2
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
Following the unprecedented controversy generated by The Satanic Verses , Rushdie offers as eloquent a defense of art as any Renaissance treatise. Supposedly begun as a bedtime story for Rushdie's son, Haroun concerns a supremely talented storyteller named Rashid whose wife is lured away by the same saturnine neighbor who poisons Rashid's son Haroun's thoughts. ``What's the use of stories that aren't even true?'' Haroun demands, parroting the neighbor and thus unintentionally paralyzing Rashid's imagination. The clocks freeze: time literally stops when the ability to narrate its passing is lost. Repentant, Haroun quests through a fantastic realm in order to restore his father's gift for storytelling. Saturated with the hyperreal color of such classic fantasies as the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland , Rushdie's fabulous landscape operates by P2C2Es (Processes Too Complicated To Explain), features a court where all the attendant Pages are numbered, and unfurls a riotous display of verbal pranks (one defiant character chants ``You can chop suey, but / You can't chop me!''; elsewhere, from another character: `` `Gogogol,' he gurgled. `` `Kafkafka,' he coughed''). But although the pyrotechnics here are entertaining in and of themselves, the irresistible force of the novel rests in Rushdie's wholehearted embrace of the fable--its form as well as its significance. It's almost as if Rushdie has invented a new form, the meta-fable. Rather than retreating under the famous death threats, Rushdie reiterates the importance of literature, stressing not just the good of stories ``that aren't even true'' but persuading us that these stories convey the truth. As Haroun realizes, ``He knew what he knew: that the real world was full of magic, so magical worlds could easily be real.'' (Jan.)
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