Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights: A Novel, Salman Rushdie, author; Robert G. Slade, narrator
I think Rushdie is brilliant. The time period in the title computes to 1001 nights. I had to do some research before I could begin to write the review because I could not remember the story of Scheherazade or The 1001 Nights which this fairytale is loosely based upon. His presentation is humorous, even though the subject is really a serious one alluding to the state of current world affairs. The tongue in cheek, sometimes very subtle references to the problems we face today are very thought provoking. This novel is much more than a fairy tale; it is a treatise on humanity, love and hate, peace and war, the future and the past. As the author states, this is a tale about Jinn, not genies, or the Jeanie of television fame who lived in a bottle and had a master. These are not the grantors of wishes. This is a race of creatures both good and evil, made up of smokeless fire.
Ibn Rushd, a Muslim Rationalist, a man who believed in reason and morality, (your eyes do not deceive you, his name looks like the author’s name), and Theologian, Ghazali of Iran, an Islamic scholar, had a philosophical feud. Ghazali was the victor. Rushd (pronounced Roosht), was not faithful enough and was exiled to a community that was famous for being the apparently not so secret, sanctuary of Jews who could not admit they are Jews. When, one day, there was a knock on his door and a woman appeared looking for refuge, he believed that she was one of the Jews who was not a Jew or one who could not admit to being a Jew. Her name was Dunia and she was a Jinn in the body of a human. She came down to Earth from Fairyland, through a wormhole or a slit that opened between both worlds. She fell in love with Ibn, although he was human and much older than she was, and she, in this human form, stayed with him and bore him many children, creating a race of parasite Jinn. These Jinn were both feared and revered, depending on the circumstances, since it was discovered that they had special powers and were thought to spread unusual diseases. The Jinn were recognizable because they had no earlobes; they were Dunians, descendants of the Jinnia princess, Dunia. It was implied that the Jews might be their descendants, but it was not spoken of out loud because the Jinn were also thought to be the spawn of the devil. Therefore, no one wanted to say they were their descendants. The union of Ibn and Dunia set the stage for a future war and ushered in the “era of the strangenesses”.
Abusive customs regarding the treatment of women were mocked with the use of pleasure bathhouses as were Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were, supposedly, not created by G-d, but rather they actually produced G-d by thinking him up after they ate the apple and this G-d was not happy about being created. I felt that by pairing Dunia and Ibn Saud, Rushdie scorned the antipathy between Muslims and Jews. He introduced many contradictory beliefs and he created interesting words like terraphiles or earth lovers.
He analyzed the creation and destruction of civilizations, their rise and fall because of good and evil, power and weakness, language and how it was used and abused to send the wrong messages. He illustrated the use of pomp and circumstance over substance and moderation, and pointed out that people really wanted to be entertained and listened to those who spoke louder and faster more than they did to those who had substance and could educate them. (It was prescient, if one looks at the rise of Donald Trump, today, in the Presidential election polls.) Usually, people would support the person that made them smile without offering solutions over the person that told them the awful truth. He exploited the fairytale genre in the best possible way because after exposing all of the ills of society, he came to the conclusion that rationality, coherence and reason would eventually win.
This imaginative tale is like the fairy tale that is filled with all of the elements fairytales usually possessed in order to teach children how to deal with life and death, good and evil, love and hate, artifice and betrayal, but in this version, it is teaching adults. It contains humor and life lessons as Rushdie tackled every important issue society has ever faced, and there is not a culture, religion, race, country or subject that he refrained from touching. Everything was fair game. By placing women in a society that required nothing but sex to thrive, he exposed the disrespect for women in certain cultures. He presented the obsession with drugs in some societies, a problem we continue to deal with in the present day. Every conceivable topic was disparaged sardonically and then whimsically analyzed so that rather than being insulting, the ideas were comical and self-deprecating.
In his easy to read prose, he exposed the futility of so many ideas, the foolishness with which they are handled and the stupidity of their premises. He poked fun at broadly accepted beliefs like when he says of a character that “she believed in G-d as firmly as she hated gefilte fish” or that Adam and Eve created G-d when they began to think about him and not the other way around. He exposes the foolishness of using skin color as a measure of worth. He disdained materialism. He illuminated the way a rush to judgment could lead to wrong headed beliefs and decisions. He wrote about the liberal network MSNBC, the preservation of the petrodollar, the weakness of education and welfare programs.
The use of the real names from the past, Ibn Rushd, Spinoza, Darwin, Descartes, Geronimo, Schopenhauer, Nietzche, served to make every allusion even more pertinent, more of a double entendre. There were colorfully named characters, as well, like Shining Ruby who inhabited the body of a financial tycoon named Daniel “mac” Aroni, Jimmy Kapoor also known as Natraj Hero, who became just that, a superhero because of his Jinn heritage, and the baby of truth, another Jinn who was able to recognize those who were not to be trusted and left her mark on them which caused them to decay. Mr. Geronimo, (aka Ibn Rushd), from India, liked the idea that the name people called him recalled to mind a famous American Indian. He was a gardener who wondered as he tended his gardens, if someone else was tending him, if he was perhaps part of someone else’s garden.
The narrator was superb using the proper accents and expression for each scene, however, the strange words made it difficult to follow, so I would recommend the print version over the audio, or having a print version handy to look up words as you listen. All in all, this is a very good read.