By Salman Rushdie
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (August 6, 2002)
Set in contemporary New York City, the somewhat familiar character of Professor Malik Solanka has abandoned his wife and three-year old son without a word, fleeing from England to NYC in the hope of escaping his rather enviable life, with all its rather enviable trappings. A former dollmaker and creator of the phenomenal Little Brain doll, to which he owes his fortune, and erstwhile academic, to which he owes his social circles, Solanka finds himself unable to make peace with neither his circumstances nor his choices.
All over the city, well-heeled young women are being murdered with a lump of concrete. Taxi drivers spew religious diatribes. Solanka suffers memory lapses, dances at various pride parades for the sake of enjoying anonymity within crowds, and comes dangerously close to breaking his vow of celibacy with Mila Milo, the young neighbour with her very own bodyguard posse and serious problems of her own.
Into his life waltzes another rather familiar character (Fury, naturally, is dedicated to the delectable Ms Padma herself), Neela, the goddess-like antithesis to the Furies who plague him, who literally causes traffic accidents as she sashays through town and graces rallies in support of her native Liliput-Blefuscu, an island on the far side of the world torn apart by communal conflict.
Solanka finds himself drawn deeper both into the political crisis that so engrosses Neela’s passions, as well as his growing suspicions about the identity of the city’s serial killer, and somewhere along the line hits upon the idea to reinvent his doll-making into a veritable cultural epic to suit current consumer tastes, a concept that will have far-reaching individual and international consequences.
What’s interesting about this novel is it’s subjectiveness, it’s almost personal frame of narrative. While many a fan will be disappointed by the various departures from tradition Rushdie undertakes, the very idea that this is the closest we have come to autobiography from him is sure to keep many more reading till the end. Certain revelations, though almost irrelevant to the plot as a whole (where’s your imagination gone, Sultan Salman? you may wonder at times), do pique different, more voyeuristic curiosities. What is Rushdie trying to say about his father, or his ex-wife, for that matter? And just what kind of ending is that to put your new wife’s doppelganger in?
Missing, though, is the trademark wordplay (the cunning linguistics, the man himself would no doubt say, with a twinkle in his eye) that brands virtually all his other fiction. Though still fairly engrossing, at times the prose reads almost like a poor parody of Rushdie’s higher scalings of the vocab gymnastics heights.
Mourn this fact or be relieved the verbal hi-jinx have taken a hiatus, one thing’s for sure: having clearly reached a point where the most fantastic protagonist he can come up with is a caricature of himself and the most unbelievable plot twists he can conjure are allegories on his own life, no other word puts quite as succinctly what Rushdie has done – mellowed.
Review by Sharanya Manivannan