Salman Rushdie is an Indian novelist who writes what is called magical realism – where he will insert magical elements in a largely realistic world. He is of course most known for his fourth novel The Satanic Verses which was very badly received by a very big part of the Muslim community which caused a Supreme Leader of Iran to invoke a religious edict which called for him to be killed on sight. He fled and stayed underground for a decade. The novel was published in 1988 and is still one of the most controversial books ever.
Because it is such a controversial story people love to talk about it. A lot of people argue about how the two main characters represent good and evil and what all of the religious symbolism means. But a lot of these people haven’t read the book and couldn’t tell you about the story itself. Now, as you know, I love to read. But I read this book entirely against my wishes, because I was forced to do so for a university class. We analysed it to death during class, so I refuse to do so again here (and also I’ve forgotten most of it). So I’ve come to the compromise of instead summarising the actual plot of the story without going into detail about symbolism, themes, the meaning of it all, …
So the main characters are two Indian actors: Gibreel, a famous Bollywood actor, and Saladin, who has turned his back on his heritage and is working in voice over acting in England. They are both on a plane from India to London that gets hijacked by terrorists. They are held captive for over a hundred days, eventually the plane takes of and then it gets blown up while flying over the English Channel. Gibreel and Saladin survive and are then described falling to earth. As they do so, they start taking on the characteristics of good and evil, angel and devil.
After they’ve landed, they are found by a woman named Rosa who takes care of them. Gibreel is starting to look more and more like an angel and Saladin is slowly transforming into the devil. Saladin gets away from Rosa only to be arrested and beaten by the police because they think he might be an illegal immigrant. He eventually escapes with a physiotherapist and when he gets home he finds his friend in bed with his wife. In the meantime, Rosa had been telling Gibreel all about her love life and when Gibreel eventually manages to escape he goes wandering around London. And then he finds Allie.
Anyway, back to Saladin. So he finds out that he has lost his job (in voiceover acting) and that his wife is now pregnant by the friend he found her in bed with. On top of that, he learns that Gibreel is going to make the dreams he’s been having into movies. So he vows revenge. In the meantime, Gibreel has been with Allie, the love of his life. However, he starts believing more and more that he’s an archangel and he is consumed by his jealousy and passion for Allie. Eventually he takes to the streets to preach the message of god but he fails.
Saladin goes back home and makes up with his wife and friend who are still a couple. When he meets Gibreel again, he gets his revenge by encouraging Gibreel’s jealousy of Allie. Eventually Gibreel goes mad with jealousy and breaks Allie’s things and leaves her. Then there is something else going on in the background: someone was jailed for killing a bunch of old women, but the accused is murdered in prison before it turns out that he wasn’t the killer. Riots start in the city, killing both Saladin’s wife and friend. Saladin tries to help some people out of a fire, but he gets in trouble and is instead saved by Gibreel.
Cut to a year and a half later: Saladin is flying back to India to see his father who is dying of cancer. The two make up and when his father dies, Saladin inherits a lot of money and then marries a beautiful woman. In the meantime, Gibreel has tried taking acting back up but to no success. He is still not over his ex Allie, who refuses to see him. Eventually, Gibreel kills an Indian movie director, then he murders Allie and then he goes to Saladin’s house where he kills himself with a revolver.
And that is the plot of this book. What I have left out is that there are three of Gibreel’s dreams woven into the story. So Gibreel is having these crazy realistic dreams, almost like prophecies. The first one is about the prophet Mahound (code for Muhammad), how he was persecuted in Jahilia (code for Mecca), but eventually came back to conquer the city. Mahound is described as jealous, disliking women and using what Gibreel (code for the Archangel Gabriel) told him for his own good. This is of course what Muslims have problems with because this is Salman’s interpretation of their prophet receiving the word of god through the archangel.
Another dream in the book is a play on the Moses story: an Indian girl says she is getting information from the Archangel Gibreel to go on a pilgrimage to Jahilia (Mecca). They will somehow be magically able to cross the Arabian Sea to do so, but everyone drowns instead. And the third dream is about the Imam of the country of Desh and how he takes Gibreel along to his home country to witness a revolution.
And this is where I stop. I will not be drawn into discussion on symbolism, religion, philosophy and more. And the reason is simple: I detested this book. I hated reading it, I will never read it again and I feel like over-analysing it will only lead to more trouble. So that’s it from me today!