cover image East, West: Stories

East, West: Stories

Salman Rushdie. Pantheon Books, $21 (214pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43965-3

``I... have ropes around my neck... pulling me East and West,'' says the narrator of one of the nine haunting stories in this collection by the author of The Satanic Verses. In three tales set in India (``East'') Rushdie surveys his native culture with a mixture of fondness, bemusement and dismay. ``The Prophet's Hair'' has some of the bite and daring that got Rushdie into hot water with Muslim fanatics. Stories set in England make up the ``West'' section. In a droll leg-puller, a fusty, prolix narrator retells events in Yorick's life, making Shakespeare's jester husband to the fair Ophelia, who has terrible breath, ``the rottenest-smelling exhalation in the State of Denmark.'' The ``permeation of the real world by the fictional is the symptom of the moral decay of our post-millennial culture,'' says a character in ``At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers,'' a futuristic piece displaying Rushdie's iconoclastic imagination and pardonably jaundiced view of life. But the full reach of his brilliant speculation and glancing wit are revealed in the stories in which East and West meet. The narrator of ``In the Harmony of the Spheres,'' a native Indian and perennial outsider in England, describes the suicide of his best friend, a British writer in the grip of paranoid schizophrenia, who manages posthumously to deal the narrator a psychic death blow. ``Chekov and Zulu,'' another teaser with layers of implication, is the best of the lot. Terse, hilarious, with a sinister edge and a stunning denouement, it follows two boyhood friends from India, forever known by their Star Trek nicknames, now diplomats (and secret spies)in England. (Jan.)