Review: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

Some characters in Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights:

Sanford Bliss – animal-feed king (and father of Lady Philosopher).

Jinendra Kapoor (Dunia's descendant) – a failed graphic novelist, aka Jimmy Kapoor, his character Natraj Hero. His cousin Nirmal aka Normal. Dunia is his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-greatmother.

Storm Baby (Dunia's descendant) - a girl child, discovered in the office of the Mayor Rosa Fast.

Flora Hill - Ex-Mayor.

Hugo Casterbridge (Dunia's descendant) - British composer (his Tibetan terrier Wolfgango).

Seth Oldville - Shareholder-activist. While still being married to Cindy Sachs, had taken up the notorious libertine Teresa Saca Cuartos (Dunia's descendant), who had earlier snared AdVenture Capital’s iconic chief Elián Cuartos.

Daniel “Mac” Aroni - Financial titan who tried Teresa Saca too, but came out defeated and depressed.

Sister C.C. Allbee – landlady of Bagdad building, where Geronimo lived.

Marpessa Sägebrecht - Brazilian lingerie model.

Blue Yasmeen – another tenant in Bagdad from Beirut (“whose name wasn’t blue, it was orange, and her name wasn’t Yasmeen. Never mind.”).

Yusuf Ifrit – a preacher.

Oya – Yoruba goddess.

Shango – aka Storm King; believed to be the husband of Oya.

Sila – childhood friend of Dunia.

Laylah – a princess.

Vetala – princess and cousin of Dunia.

Huertas brothers – they built the biggest chair in the world, some eighty-five feet tall in Lucena.

Giacomo Donizetti - restaurateur and man-about-town from Venice, Italy. His mother is Mirra Alfassa.

Airagaira – a nobody in the distant city of B and gets to work on a machine which makes the Future.

Morgana le Fay – mortal sorceress who had once got hold of Zabardast.

Wizard Merlin – also captured by Morgana at some point in time.

Simurgh – the bird-god.

Shahpal – fairy emperor and father of Dunia.

Omar the Ayyar - royal household’s chief spy in Peristan and faithful to Dunia and her father.

Shahrukh – father of Shahpal.

Christof Pantokrator  - a shrewd curator.

Ibn Rushd (Averroës) is personal physician to Caliph Abu Yusuf Yaqub. But Abu Yusuf allows fanatics to push him out of the town of Lucena in Spain. Woe-stricken by his loss, he retreats to the small town of Lucena and minds his own life till Dunia, a girl of 16 years of age appears and with whom he has many, many children. Incoherence of the Philosophers by Ghazali, where he attacks Aristotle, Neoplatonists, and Ibn Rushd’s precursors Ibn Sina and al-Farabi makes Rushd, many decades later, write The Incoherence of the Incoherence. Dunia, however, is forgotten by Rushd as Abu Yusuf Yaqub’s triumph against Alfonso VIII results in him being summoned back to the court. Salman Rushdie marks his supremacy over prose by half-a-dozen lengthy passages, like, “The mark of shame was wiped off the old philosopher’s brow, his exile ended; he was rehabilitated, un-disgraced, and returned with honor to his old position of court physician in Córdoba, two years, eight months and twenty-eight days and nights after his exile began, which was to say, one thousand days and nights and one more day and night; and Dunia was pregnant again, of course, he never gave her children his name, of course, and he did not bring her with him to the Almohad court, of course, so she slipped out of history, he took it with him when he left, along with his robes, his bubbling retorts, and his manuscripts, some bound, others in scrolls, manuscripts of other men’s books, for his own had been burned, though many copies survived, he told her, in other cities, in the libraries of friends, and in places where he had concealed them against the day of his disfavour, for a wise man always prepares for adversity, but, if he is properly modest, good fortune takes him by surprise”. After the death of Rushd, Dunia  a.k.a Aasmaan Peri or Queen Skyfairy, from Peristan or Fairyland, appears in his tomb and reminds him of his desertion of her. As his fight with the dead Persian philosopher Ghazali of Tus is still not over, he acknowledges Dunia and their descendants.

800 years or so later – Geronimo (Raphael Hieronymus Manezes of Bandra in Bombay; illegitimate son of Father Jerry, the Very Rev. Fr. Jeremiah D’Niza and Magda Manezes) discovers his levitation from the ground. His father’s brother uncle Charles Duniza in America invites him to the Country of Dreams and Charles’ friend Bento V. Elfenbein’s daughter charms the serious natured Geronimo, who then become husband and wife. Wife Ella Elfenbein dies from a lightening strike from the clouds by Dunia. While Uncle Charles & Fr. Jerry die in the 1992 Bombay-riots. But Geronimo had already by then heard from Fr. Jerry that they probably were the descendants of the philosopher Ibn Rushd of Al-Andalus.

Mr. Geronimo’s employer – Lady Philosopher – Alexandra Bliss Fariña (daughter of Sanford Bliss, the animal-feed king) is fluent in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Hungarian, Cantonese, mandarin, Russian, Pashto, Farsi, Arabic, and Tagalong. After her parents’ death in a helicopter crash, her inquiry into pessimism, inspired by both Schopenhauer and Nietzche, convinces her of the absurdity of human life and freedom and the incompatibility of happiness and freedom. She often read Unamuno or Camus. Her manager Oliver Oldcastle has a thing for her but whose love for Lady Philosopher remains unrequited. Geronimo, who himself is struck by lightning, starts remaining off the ground by a good distance and attracts undue attention wherever he goes. And probably attracts enough attention from Lady Philosopher to make it to her bed while Oldcastle threatens to kill him.

But grudges are grudges and while still in their respective graves, the communication between Ghazali and Rushd, brings forth the hand of God against the face of Reason. Rushd against religion but not God; while Ghazali against Reason. Ghazali finds a locked up jinn in a bottle and frees him, and gets to ask three wishes from him. And it is only later that he finds out that the jinn in the bottle was Zumurrud Shah aka Zumurrud the Great, the grandest of the Grand Ifrits (“he was also an aficionado of the work of masters such as Simak, Blish, Henderson, Van Vogt, Pohl and Kornbluth, Lem, Bester, Zelazny, Clarke, and L. Sprague de Camp. Among his favourites was Isaac Asimov’s classic novel of the 1950s, Foundation...”). Ghazali orders Zumurrud to “Go where Man believes himself to be godlike, lay waste his arsenals and fleshpots, his temples of technology, knowledge and wealth. Go also to those sentimental locations where it is said that God is love. Go and show them the truth”. Anyways “this was a species with an exceptional ability to ignore its approaching doom”. Zumurrud with three of his kind go on a rampage in this part of the world. The three of his kind are: Ra’im - the Blood-Drinker; Shining Ruby – the Possessor of Souls; and Zabardast – the “awesome” sorcerer. In the faraway Peristan, Shahpal is poisoned and Dunia vows to take her revenge on the four Ifrits.

Dunia kills three Ifrits and heads for one final battle with Zumurrud, who “summoned the wind”. To counter the wind, Dunia brought down rain “...that was her magic, a rain so heavy that it seemed as if the river itself had risen from its bed”. Zumurrud is over-powered and captured in a corked-up bottle and hidden somewhere by Dunia, maybe in the slits between our world and Peristan. The day was saved and Reason won against Superstition, and all seemed happy. However, not all was what it seemed: “But the nights pass dumbly. One thousand and one nights may pass, but they pass in silence, like and army of ghosts, their footfalls noiseless, marching invisibly through the darkness, unheard, unseen, as we live and grow older and die. Mostly we are glad. Our lives are good. But sometimes we wish for the dreams to return. Sometimes, for we have not wholly rid ourselves of perversity, we long for nightmares”.

A day in the jinn world is like a month of human time”. Sometimes, reading a page in Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights was like reading a book in its own – disjointed, free-for-all, and weirder than the previous. For example, the influence of jinns on the ways of the world – “ a Romanian village a woman began laying eggs. In a French town the citizenry began turning into rhinoceroses. Old Irish people took to living in trash cans. A Belgian man looked into a mirror and saw the back of his head reflected in it. A Russian official lost his nose and then saw it walking around St. Petersburg by itself. A narrow cloud sliced across a full moon and a Spanish lady gazing up at it felt a sharp pain as a razor blade cut her eyeball in half and the vitreous humor, the gelatinous matter filling the space between the lens and the retina, flowed out. Ants crawled out of a hole in a man’s palm”. And combine that with visions of “Isospin doublet, Noether’s theorem, rotation transformation, up and down quarks, Pauli Exclusion Principle, De Rham cohomology, hedgehog space, disjoint union, spectral asymmetry, Cheshire Cat principle”.

This happened to be my first Salman Rushdie fiction and I must say it is different than of others which I have read. His and the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky lie in the same strata of magical realism. Many metaphorical situations, laced with probably personal loss, cannot be helped but noticed: Bombay becomes the uglier Mumbai; Hindutva ideology resulting into the deaths of the ‘others’; the Machine of the Future resembling in descriptions the Nazi labour-camps. The lands of a different world may not be exactly enticing for everyone, and it wasn't for me, but it was Rushdie's prose which wound its magic throughout. Some styles grow on you, and this is surely one of them. I first read exactly fifty-percent of the book and then re-read from the beginning to get a better grip of the characters and events. Buy it if you are a Rushdie fan; and buy it too if you have never read his fiction earlier - this one will impress you.

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