Rushdie’s delightful new book for children and adults,
Luka and the
Fire of Life,
written for his son Milan (a sequel of sorts to the earlier
the Sea of Stories)
is an adventure or quest in the grand old story-telling tradition.
Young Luka must find and bring back the Fire of Life to save his
father, the storyteller Rashid (yes, the sim-onym is intentional), the Shah of Blah, the Ocean of
Notions who has somehow, rather ominously, slowed down and fallen
into a sleep from which he does not wake.... The book is in
many ways a moving gift from an older father to his young son, a
touching attempt at transcending time itself.
was only a few years old, his father’s hands acquired lives and
even minds of their own. They had names, too: there was
Nobody (the right hand) and Nonsense (the left), and....Sometimes
when the right hand started tickling Luka and he begged, “Stop,
please stop,” his father replied, “It’s not me. In fact, Nobody’s
tickling you,” and when the left hand joined in and Luka, crying
with laughter, protested, “you are, you are tickling me,’ his
father replied, “You know what? That’s just Nonsense."
Lately however, Rashid’s hands had slowed down....
And so there
is Luka, alarmed at the
a completely halted father, stuck in mid-sentence, mid-gesture,
mid-stride, just frozen to the spot forever....”
is a book that celebrates the power of the imagination, for the Fire of Life
is to be found in the Left-Handed Dimension or the World of Magic
(and then there is the corresponding Right-Handed Dimension or the
Real World). A tale of time and memory, of mythology
and magic. The fantastical world where Luka must travel with
his bear called Dog and his dog called Bear is
modeled on computer games with levels and multiple lives and
peopled with creatures from myth and poetry and the imagination: a journey down (or up) the
River of Time; Memory Birds with heads like elephants; a magic
carpet ride with the deliciously dismissive Insult-ana of Ott; creatures from Greek
mythology, Nordic sagas, the Hindu pantheon, even Fraidy Cats!
The book is charming, revels in wordplay, silly wordplay at times
(but then that’s half the fun of rhyming and riddling, the very
pleasure in both the silliness and the pat-oneself-on-the-back
cleverness of punning).
But what was
really the elephant in the room as we read the book was Rushdie’s
magnum opus, the winner of the Booker of Bookers, that modern
And from those famous opening lines:
the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands
joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh spell it
out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at
independence, I tumbled forth into the world....
spell it out then. Midnight is when clock hands join.
And can Left-Handed Imagination and Right-Handed Reality meet in
print once more? Can Oh be spelt out twice? And we
wondered whether Rushdie can overcome his distraction
(which, when we think about it, is the mood that seems to define
his literary novels ever since the marvelous
as if somehow the competing pressures of the fatwa and the
red carpet took him away from a flying carpet whose fibers had now
become tangled and matted, as if he had lost control of the
strands of story, lost the trail, and Blah had became Blather and
there were Digressions from which there was no Egress.... And if
we happened to be creatures in
inevitably be silly and say we don’t mean to dis
his tracts but only that we kept expecting that old magic).
And perhaps Rushdie has found that old fire again for we are
pleased to say he didn’t lose us this time around, and that he
guided us surely through this make-believe World of Magic, and
that the stumbling in and out dimensions was remarkably smooth.
hands join again? Can Nobody and Nonsense meet and make Sense for
Somebody? All we know is that for every midnight there is
indeed a noon! And so the quest (or question) is not only
whether Rushdie can make clock hands join again but whether he can
do it one better (One o’clock anybody?...get those hands parted!)
Or perhaps that Fire of Life is a torch to be passed on, to all
those other children of midnight.
can also be
read as a vampire tale about the power of stories and the
Luka and the
Fire of Life, Salman Rushdie, for children and adults of all ages
the Sea of Stories