Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Yesterday a friend suggested that I post book reviews of the 50 books I plan to read this year.  Since I also would like to blog more often in 2011, I thought this was a good plan.

The very first book I read in 2011 was “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” by the great Salman Rushdie.  I read a little bit of Rushdie in college, but I fell in love with him last year when I read “The Enchantress of Florence,” which remains one of my all-time favorites.

“Haroun and the Sea of Stories” opens as the tale of the son of a renowned story-teller.  This is a challenging premise, as it requires a higher level of expertise than a book that opens as the tale of a cobbler or bank accountant.  There are elements of magical realism in the first and last chapters; a city that has forgotten it’s name, factories that produce sadness, and rain that bathes the city in ecstasy.  These elements caught my interest at the outset, because I love magical realism and I’ve seen Rushdie do it very, very well.

The bulk of the book (that which takes place between the first and last chapter), takes place on a mythical second moon that orbits the earth too quickly to be detected.  Because it takes place off of the earth, involving alien peoples with different physics and such things, I would have to classify it as pure fantasy. Probably a lot of people are delighted with that development.  The fantasy section is imaginative, interesting, and stays true to the boundaries it sets for itself.  That is impressive.  However, the fantasy world is too simple, containing only two peoples who represent light and dark, speech and silence, so the entire thing becomes a binary.  The world, despite being a moon, comes off rather flat.  It lacks the color and depth that I expect from Rushdie.

The characters are similar in their construction.  They are interesting, and they interact in a believable way, but they don’t feel dynamic by the end of the book.  They don’t change, they merely press into their original molds and become more sharply who they were to begin with.  One of my favorite characters, Mudra the Shadow Warrior, is introduced in a most intriguing way.  The creativity that is involved in the concept of a shadow warrior is stunning.  But like other aspects of the novel, the introduction of Mudra is the most interesting part of his character, and what follows feels predictable.

Perhaps the really unfair comparison I’m making is to “The Enchantress of Florence,” which was the reason I was so quick to pick up another novel by Rushdie.  That book wields its magical power right here on earth, interweaving with historical events, love, lust, war, and all the greatest and most terrifying aspects of life.  “Haroun,” by comparison, feels somewhat shallow.  Yet, it is a funny, imaginative, and interesting book that is most likely meant for a much younger audience.

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