One 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.