There are many reasons to read a book. But, there is only one to read Two Years Eight Months And Twenty-Eight Nights—Salman Rushdie. It is a roller coaster ride and once you are on it, on the flight of fantasy, you are strapped in and it is impossible to get off. There have been post 9/11 novels—epic and evocative—but Rushdie’s book has the magnetic pull of fantasy, the mesmerising quality of a dastan. Each era, like Scheherzade, has its own stories.
Two Years Eight Months And Twenty-Eight Nights has all the kick of the fantasy. Then there is the wicked Rushdie humour. It is much more than a novel, like everything Rushdie does. It is a book crammed with ideas. There is the magic of stories, there is the alienation of exile, there is love and there is philosophy.
The story is a retelling of the Arabian Nights, but on a grand Rushdie-esq canvas. It is larger than life, incredible, elaborate, impossible, but magical, always indulgent and imbued with a breathlessness, an intensity that blows the reader away. Set in New York after a great storm devastates the city, the book flips across generations, continents, philosophies, cultures and centuries. Part fairytale, part fable and fantasy, it is a book where Rushdie has turned his causes—against intolerance, religious fanaticism and extremism—into fiction.
Narrated as our ancestors’ story, it begins in 1195, when philosopher Ibn Rushd is no longer there to expound his philosophy. Dunia, a jinnia, comes to earth, falls in love with the exiled philosopher and then produces children. This is the story of her earlobe-less children, the Dunizat, populating continents over the centuries.
At the heart of the book is the battle between Ibn Rushd and his enemy Ghazali (“A puritan, whose enemy is pleasure”), who wanted to turn everyone to God. Rushdie conjures up a fight between good and evil, between reason and fear. It is the argument Rushdie loves, the battle that is both personal and political.
Rushdie weaves events of present day, the attack on the towers, the Nirbhaya rape, and even Afghanistan into this period. It is events that are recognisable, but influenced because the battle of the worlds has begun—and this is a fight that owes its origins to the ancient battle between faith and reason. There is even a reference to Obama with his jug ears, a president that dances well but his wife is better.
If you’re willing to fly on a magic carpet from idea to idea to just see how creative Rushdie is—how he uses the arguments he has made over and over again to turn fact into fiction, this is the book for you.
“Instead of making myself write the book I ought to write... I conjured up the book I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country,” said Italo Calvino. Or so says the first leaf of the book. This is Rushdie’s book, the one he wanted to read. Is it perfect? Far from it. But, it is still worth reading. If for nothing else just the joy of having Rushdie mould sentences, images and ideas. It is also a book of hope. That counts for a lot.