Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights

Two YearsOne thousand and one nights. That’s how long the war between our world and fairyland, the world of the jinn, lasted. But roots of the war go back 1,001 years, when Dunia, a female jinn (or jinnia), fell in love with a man named Ibn Rushd. Their descendants–part human and part jinn and totally unaware of their own origins–form an army against the jinn who enter our world when the barriers between our world and the jinn’s fairyland break down.

That sounds straightforward enough, but Salman Rushdie does not tell this story in a straightforward way. This is a story in which two central characters are dead men debating God versus reason and whether the war between the worlds will drive them to belief or unbelief. So there’s a philosophical element to the action. The story’s narrator is speaking from long after the war, and the known history is fragmented. Most of the characters feel like characters from myth, rather than full-bodied, complex people. We’re told of their feelings and motivations in the moment, but we don’t get to see deeply into their souls. We learn what’s necessary to the story, but not much more.

Rushdie’s style of storytelling takes tremendous skill, and the way the threads come together in the end is close to breathtaking, but the style kept me at a distance from a story that would normally grip me. It reminded me of why I so often love novels that put flesh on myths and fairy tales. I may enjoy the originals for what they are, but I’d rather spend time with a book like Thorn or The King Must Die than a book that gives me people who are little more than semi-human objects moved around to suit the story. A few of Rushdie’s characters come close to feeling real, but I wanted to know all of them better than I did. The gardener who suddenly levitates, Mr. Geronimo, is one example. And the vengeful Teresa Saca, who became so important to the book’s conclusion, deserved more of a story than she got.

The trouble with this book is that I wanted more of it, even though there’s a lot of story here already. It’s jammed with characters and with events and with ideas, but it’s such a short book that few of these elements have time to breathe. With so much going on, there wasn’t enough to make me care. It’s a myth without flesh and bone. Give me that, too, and This pretty good book could be remarkable.

I received an advance copy of this book for review consideration through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

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14 Responses to Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights

  1. Denise says:

    Really interesting point about balancing out-there-ness with something grounded that makes us care about the characters.

    • Teresa says:

      I find it hard to get really excited about a book when the characters feel half-baked. This was good, but it could have been so much better with deeper characterization.

  2. I’ve yet to read any Rushdie, but this one sounds excellent.

    • Teresa says:

      It’s not as good as I’d hoped, but it’s certainly not bad. I never like Rushdie as much as I want to, but I’ve liked everything enough to keep trying.

  3. I enjoyed it, but did find it hard to concentrate sometimes when he went off on another digression! I’d expected a little more of a SF feel to the strangenesses too, but I loved the fantasy elements.

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, every time I’d get interested in some part of the story, it would go somewhere else. It just never landed in one place long enough. I loved the world he created, and I wanted to spend more time enjoying it.

  4. Kristen M. says:

    It definitely seemed a bit short and sparse and could have been fleshed out more. I did wonder if he planned it that way though because I just can’t believe, after his other books, that he wouldn’t have been able to build it out.

    • Teresa says:

      I think it was intentional, especially given that the story is being told 1,001 years into the future, and the narrator acknowledges that there are gaps in the information. It makes sense to do it that way, but it made the book less exciting than it could have been.

  5. Stefanie says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading this one! I enjoyed your review and will keep it in mind when I manage to get to the book!

  6. I’m surprised this book is so short, considering how many characters and themes and ideas seem to be coursing through it. I’ll try to adjust my expectations of it accordingly, though; I really do mostly read Salman Rushdie for the prose in any case. Oh, are there good lady characters? Is vengeful lady a good character? That’s been a problem I’ve had with Rushdie books in the past.

    • Teresa says:

      It really could have been a lot longer.

      As far as the women go, the main character is a female jinn, and she’s one of the only two characters who have much depth, so that’s good. And there are some other women, like the vengeful lady, who get some great moments, but most of them suffer from the same sketchlike quality that affects just about all the characters, women and men.

  7. aartichapati says:

    As I mentioned on Twitter, I wasn’t able to finish this book. I think your points are spot-on. So much plot and characters in so few pages!

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