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Old 09-19-2013, 10:56 PM   #1
WT Sharpe
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September 2013 Discussion: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the September 2013 MobileRead Book Club selection, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. What did you think?
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Old 09-20-2013, 10:43 AM   #2
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I just couldn't get into this book. I gave up after a hundred pages.
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Old 09-20-2013, 01:11 PM   #3
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I just couldn't get into this book. I gave up after a hundred pages.
I've kept plodding through, now at 65%! I haven't read anything else all month though so it has completely washed out my personal challenge for this year.
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Old 09-20-2013, 02:04 PM   #4
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I also struggled with this book until I came to the conclusion that I had three choices: (1) give up on the book, (2) plod through it miserably, or (3) read enough secondary material to have a framework in which to at least partially understand what I was reading and the author’s intent. One of the chief obstacles for me was that the story kept changing. Just as I cared about a story…Presto Change-o!...I was in another story.

This quote from a Rushdie interview helped:
Quote:
“… the book itself was conceived as one which constantly metamorphosed. It keeps turning into another kind of book. Certainly, from my point of view, that was technically one of the biggest gambles. Because I couldn’t be sure that the readers would come along for the ride. It was something which could be irritating. Imagine that you’re reading a certain kind of book and you’re suddenly stuck with another kind of book. “Rushdie: “Interview,” p. 58.
Exactly. So in order to continue I had to accept that change is part of the story.

I was on page 252, 50%, when I was riveted by this paragraph:
Quote:
‘Question of mutability of the essence of the self,’ he began, awkwardly, ‘has long been subject of profound debate. For example, great Lucretius tells us, in De Rerum Natura, this following thing: quodcumque suis mutatum finibus exit, continuo hoc mors est illius quod fuit ante. Which being translated, forgive my clumsiness, is “Whatever by its changing goes out of its frontiers,” – that is, bursts its banks, – or, maybe, breaks out of its limitations, – so to speak, disregards its own rules, but that is too free, I am thinking … “that thing”, at any rate, Lucretius holds, “by doing so brings immediate death to its old self”. However,’ up went the ex-schoolmaster’s finger, ‘poet Ovid, in the Metamorphoses, takes diametrically opposed view. He avers thus: “As yielding wax” – heated, you see, possibly for the sealing of documents or such, – “is stamped with new designs And changes shape and seems not still the same, Yet is indeed the same, even so our souls,” – you hear, good sir? Our spirits! Our immortal essences! – “Are still the same forever, but adopt in their migrations ever-varying forms.” ’ He was hopping, now, from foot to foot, full of the thrill of the old words. ‘For me it is always Ovid over Lucretius,’ he stated. ‘Your soul, my good poor dear sir, is the same. Only in its migration it has adopted this presently varying form.’
I’d been pondering the nature of good and evil because of a preoccupation with the last season of the television series Breaking Bad, an obsession I share with a fair portion of the American population. This fact has nothing to do with this book or this thread, but it explains my sudden intense interest in this theme throughout the remainder of the book.

In the interview cited above, Rushdie says of Ovid's Metamorphoses:
Quote:
It’s one of my favourite books and after all this is a novel about metamorphosis. It’s a novel in which people change shape, and which addresses the great questions about a change of shape, about change, which were posed by Ovid: about whether a change in form was a change in kind. Whether there is an essence in us which survives transmutation, given that, even if we don’t change into, you know, cloven-hoofed creatures, there is a great deal of change in everybody’s life. The question is whether or not there is an essential centre. And whether we are just a collection of moments, or whether there is some kind of defining thread. The book discusses that, I think, it uses the idea of physical metamorphosis in order to discuss that. And so, of course, Ovid was important.”
Metamorphosis happens throughout this book, most significantly as Gibreel Farishta becomes an angel and Saladin Chamcha becomes the devil. But this post is now too long. This is a theme I would like to see discussed and I’ll likely have a good deal to say about it. But now I must read Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

A second theme that fascinates me is the experience of the migrant, which is also a metamorphosis. But there will be time enough in this thread for that.

Last edited by BelleZora; 09-20-2013 at 03:00 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old 09-20-2013, 02:20 PM   #5
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Thanks, Belle Zora for your insights.
I like the flow of words in this book, which is at times very poetic.
There is also a depth in this book, which I feel I cannot grasp in one reading; I am tempted to look up all Rushdie refers to in his text and that just won't do. I'll save it for the second reading, if I come to it.
In the meantime, I enjoy this book and juggle the different story lines.
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Old 09-20-2013, 06:54 PM   #6
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I agree - a great post, BelleZora, thank you. I found the book quite a slog too, but did finish it a couple of days ago. I "diagnosed" Gibreel's schizophrenia part-way through and was happy that we were seeing the world, and Saladin, through his eyes. But then when we went back to Saladin, it seems that the two of them really did fall out of the plane and survive, etc. Of course, maybe Saladin was also suffering from schizophrenia!

But all that is being too literal and I think you are right Belle, that the outward changes signify inner changes to the individuals, at least in part because of the experiences of migration. Saladin was certainly behaving in an evil fashion with his own "satanic verses" in the phone calls he made, and Gibreel was angelic in rescuing Saladin even though he had realised it was Saladin who had destroyed his relationship with Allie.

A strange book, but I'm glad I persevered with it.
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Old 09-21-2013, 12:08 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
Saladin was certainly behaving in an evil fashion with his own "satanic verses" in the phone calls he made, and Gibreel was angelic in rescuing Saladin even though he had realised it was Saladin who had destroyed his relationship with Allie.
The evil Saladin was in need of rescue because, after he has destroyed Gibreel's fragile mind and relationship using an innocent woman to achieve his goal, he races into a burning building, despite the pain in his chest and left arm, to save the people inside.

Gibreel then rushes in and finds the fallen, traitorous Saladin, and this question is asked:
Quote:
What happens when you win? When your enemies are at your mercy: how will you act then?
Gibreel asked Saladin: "Why'd you do it?, referring to the damage Saladin inflicted upon himself and Allie. And then Gibreel says:
Quote:
‘Damnfool thing to be asking. Might as well inquire, what possessed you to rush in here? Damnfool thing to do. People, eh, Spoono? Crazy bastards, that’s all.’
Rushdie asks: "Is it possible that evil is never total, that its victory, no matter how overwhelming, is never absolute?"

This book asks so many questions that I can barely (or not even) comprehend them, much less the answers, although questions are obviously more important to Rushdie than answers. The questions that held my attention most concerned the presence of good and evil within the same person: how could this be? What does it mean?

Rushdie asks: "Are we coming closer to it? Should we even say that these are two fundamentally different types of self?"

Quote:
...Gibreel, for all his stage-name and performances; and in spite of born-again slogans, new beginnings, metamorphoses; – has wished to remain, to a large degree, continuous – that is, joined to and arising from his past...making him that angelic Gibreel he has no desire to be; – so that his is still a self which, for our present purposes, we may describe as ‘true’ … whereas Saladin Chamcha is a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing re-invention; his preferred revolt against history being what makes him, in our chosen idiom, ‘false’?
I can't even begin to trace out the threads of all the other stories and how they make a whole. There is so much here. I actually began to keep a reading journal, the first time I've done so in decades. So I suppose that means the book is worth the effort to grapple with it, at least for me.
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Old 09-21-2013, 05:26 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by BelleZora View Post
I also struggled with this book until I came to the conclusion that I had three choices: (1) give up on the book, (2) plod through it miserably, or (3) read enough secondary material to have a framework in which to at least partially understand what I was reading and the author’s intent. One of the chief obstacles for me was that the story kept changing. Just as I cared about a story…Presto Change-o!...I was in another story.

This quote from a Rushdie interview helped:

Exactly. So in order to continue I had to accept that change is part of the story.

I was on page 252, 50%, when I was riveted by this paragraph:

I’d been pondering the nature of good and evil because of a preoccupation with the last season of the television series Breaking Bad, an obsession I share with a fair portion of the American population. This fact has nothing to do with this book or this thread, but it explains my sudden intense interest in this theme throughout the remainder of the book.

In the interview cited above, Rushdie says of Ovid's Metamorphoses:

Metamorphosis happens throughout this book, most significantly as Gibreel Farishta becomes an angel and Saladin Chamcha becomes the devil. But this post is now too long. This is a theme I would like to see discussed and I’ll likely have a good deal to say about it. But now I must read Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

A second theme that fascinates me is the experience of the migrant, which is also a metamorphosis. But there will be time enough in this thread for that.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BelleZora View Post
The evil Saladin was in need of rescue because, after he has destroyed Gibreel's fragile mind and relationship using an innocent woman to achieve his goal, he races into a burning building, despite the pain in his chest and left arm, to save the people inside.

Gibreel then rushes in and finds the fallen, traitorous Saladin, and this question is asked:

Gibreel asked Saladin: "Why'd you do it?, referring to the damage Saladin inflicted upon himself and Allie. And then Gibreel says:

Rushdie asks: "Is it possible that evil is never total, that its victory, no matter how overwhelming, is never absolute?"

This book asks so many questions that I can barely (or not even) comprehend them, much less the answers, although questions are obviously more important to Rushdie than answers. The questions that held my attention most concerned the presence of good and evil within the same person: how could this be? What does it mean?

Rushdie asks: "Are we coming closer to it? Should we even say that these are two fundamentally different types of self?"



I can't even begin to trace out the threads of all the other stories and how they make a whole. There is so much here. I actually began to keep a reading journal, the first time I've done so in decades. So I suppose that means the book is worth the effort to grapple with it, at least for me.
There are some really remarkable insights in these posts. Thanks for sharing them. I read it many years ago and haven't bothered to re-read it. Now I think I might do so to see if I appreciate it more than I did.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 09-21-2013 at 05:36 PM.
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Old 09-21-2013, 09:38 PM   #9
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The weirdness at the beginning overwhelmed me and I had to take a break from the book. When I picked it up again I was able to get through about 20% before abandoning it again. I stopped this time because I knew I was missing out on most of the cultural and religious references and it seemed pointless to carry on.

I was hoping to find out what all the fuss was about, but I'm still in the dark. I didn't find anything I read offensive, but I'm not religious or easily offended either.
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Old 09-21-2013, 11:48 PM   #10
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I'll read these posts once I've finished (about 70% through), but my observations currently are:

The writing in this is lovely and (as I've mentioned before) whimsical. This is very in character with other Rushdie books I've read and I think it makes reading him enjoyable.

What Rushdie is trying to do with this playful narrative is a little difficult to discern if you don't understand what he's playing on. There's a truck load of cultural and religious references that I think you probably need to have at least a basic understanding of to really "get" where he's going. I actually don't, which I think is going to hamper my ability to comprehend and discuss his message. I don't really have the required enthusiasm to read up on the legends, folklore and religious tenets involved in the making of the story, so I'm responding to the book on a more superficial level.

Even losing that depth of understanding, I'm actually enjoying all the bizarre and fantastical stories being told. I feel somewhat like I'm lost in Aesop's Fables or similar as I'm reading.

I'll see what more I can contribute once I've completed the novel.
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Old 09-22-2013, 03:46 PM   #11
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So I seem to have enjoyed this book a lot more than some. I liked the blend of fantasy and reality, the quality of the writing, and the multiple threads that were maintained even though the threads were not continuous, but instead seemingly temporarily abandoned to be resumed later. Though I also saw some common themes being present in all threads. I will admit though that there are many aspects of the book that left me wondering what Rushdie's intent was, and even in cases where I think I understand at times was at a loss of how to put my thoughts into words. With regard to that I really, really appreciate BelleZora's comments.


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Originally Posted by BelleZora View Post
Metamorphosis happens throughout this book, most significantly as Gibreel Farishta becomes an angel and Saladin Chamcha becomes the devil. But this post is now too long. This is a theme I would like to see discussed and I’ll likely have a good deal to say about it. But now I must read Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Metamorphosis! That's just the word I was looking for. Much better than the word I was originally thinking of, reincarnation. Many of the characters go through a metamorphosis in the book, both in a reality based sense and a fantasy based sense, and also across geography and centuries of time. And not just Gibreel and Saladin, but others as well (eg Ayesha).

Quote:
Originally Posted by BelleZora View Post
This book asks so many questions that I can barely (or not even) comprehend them, much less the answers, although questions are obviously more important to Rushdie than answers. The questions that held my attention most concerned the presence of good and evil within the same person: how could this be? What does it mean?

Rushdie asks: "Are we coming closer to it? Should we even say that these are two fundamentally different types of self?"
Exactly what I got out of it. Are good and evil the two sides of the same coin, two aspects of any character, or really just a spectrum running from white to black with most of it gray? Which leads me to discussing one of the main initial interests I had in this book, why Islamic leaders were so offended by this book?

Of course the mere mention of the so called “Satanic Verses” may have been enough. When Mahound (Muhammad) is offered status and power in Jahilian (Mecca) if only he will be flexible in his belief that there is only one God—Allah— and accept the pagan goddesses Uzza. Manat, and Al-Lat as lesser deities he goes to the cave on the mountain to await a revelation from the Angel Gibreel (Gabriel). He receives a revelation that he may do so, announces this to his followers and others in Jahilian, but quickly renounces this a a false revelation from Satan. Bad enough in the eyes of Islamic leaders to even speak of this, but in this book Rushdie has Gibreel reveal that that "Satanic" revelation was not from Satan, but from him.

Quote:
At the end of his wrestling match with the Archangel Gibreel, the Prophet Mahound falls into his customary, exhausted, post-revelatory sleep, but on this occasion he revives more quickly than usual. When he comes to his senses in that high wilderness there is nobody to be seen, no winged creatures crouch on rocks, and he jumps to his feet, filled with the urgency of his news. ‘It was the Devil,’ he says aloud to the empty air, making it true by giving it voice. ‘The last time, it was Shaitan.’ This is what he has heard in his listening, that he has been tricked, that the Devil came to him in the guise of the archangel, so that the verses he memorized, the ones he recited in the poetry tent, were not the real thing but its diabolic opposite, not godly, but satanic. He returns to the city as quickly as he can, to expunge the foul verses that reek of brimstone and sulphur, to strike them from the record for ever and ever, so that they will survive in just one or two unreliable collections of old traditions and orthodox interpreters will try and unwrite their story, but Gibreel, hovering-watching from his highest camera angle, knows one small detail, just one tiny thing that’s a bit of a problem here, namely that it was me both times, baba, me first and second also me. From my mouth, both the statement and the repudiation, verses and converses, universes and reverses, the whole thing, and we all know how my mouth got worked.
There are also instances where Rushdie expresses cynicism about the very notion of divine revelations.


Quote:
After that Salman began to notice how useful and well timed the angel’s revelations tended to be, so that when the faithful were disputing Mahound’s views on any subject, from the possibility of space travel to the permanence of Hell, the angel would turn up with an answer, and he always supported Mahound, stating beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was impossible that a man should ever walk upon the moon, and being equally positive on the transient nature of damnation: even the most evil of doers would eventually be cleansed by hellfire and find their way into the perfumed gardens, Gulistan and Bostan. It would have been different, Salman complained to Baal, if Mahound took up his positions after receiving the revelation from Gibreel; but no, he just laid down the law and the angel would confirm it afterwards; so I began to get a bad smell in my nose, and I thought, this must be the odour of those fabled and legendary unclean creatures, what’s their name, prawns.

The fishy smell began to obsess Salman, who was the most highly educated of Mahound’s intimates owing to the superior educational system then on offer in Persia. On account of his scholastic advancement Salman was made Mahound’s official scribe, so that it fell to him to write down the endlessly proliferating rules. All those revelations of convenience, he told Baal, and the longer I did the job the worse it got. . . .
Quote:
What finally finished Salman with Mahound: the question of the women; and of the Satanic verses. Listen, I’m no gossip, Salman drunkenly confided, but after his wife’s death Mahound was no angel, you understand my meaning. But in Yathrib he almost met his match. Those women up there: they turned his beard half-white in a year. The point about our Prophet, my dear Baal, is that he didn’t like his women to answer back, he went for mothers and daughters, think of his first wife and then Ayesha: too old and too young, his two loves. He didn’t like to pick on someone his own size. But in Yathrib the women are different, you don’t know, here in Jahilia you’re used to ordering your females about but up there they won’t put up with it. When a man gets married he goes to live with his wife’s people! Imagine! Shocking, isn’t it? And throughout the marriage the wife keeps her own tent. If she wants to get rid of her husband she turns the tent round to face in the opposite direction, so that when he comes to her he finds fabric where the door should be, and that’s that, he’s out, divorced, not a thing he can do about it. Well, our girls were beginning to go for that type of thing, getting who knows what sort of ideas in their heads, so at once, bang, out comes the rule book, the angel starts pouring out rules about what women mustn’t do, he starts forcing them back into the docile attitudes the Prophet prefers, docile or maternal, walking three steps behind or sitting at home being wise and waxing their chins. How the women of Yathrib laughed at the faithful, I swear, but that man is a magician, nobody could resist his charm; the faithful women did as he ordered them. They Submitted: he was offering them Paradise, after all..

‘Anyway,’ Salman said near the bottom of the bottle, ‘finally I decided to test him.’

One night the Persian scribe had a dream in which he was hovering above the figure of Mahound at the Prophet’s cave on Mount Cone. At first Salman took this to be no more than a nostalgic reverie of the old days in Jahilia, but then it struck him that his point of view, in the dream, had been that of the archangel, and at that moment the memory of the incident of the Satanic verses came back to him as vividly as if the thing had happened the previous day. ‘Maybe I hadn’t dreamed of myself as Gibreel,’ Salman recounted. ‘Maybe I was Shaitan.’ The realization of this possibility gave him his diabolic idea. After that, when he sat at the Prophet’s feet, writing down rules rules rules, he began, surreptitiously, to change things.

‘Little things at first. If Mahound recited a verse in which God was described as all-hearing, all-knowing, I would write, all-knowing, all-wise. Here’s the point: Mahound did not notice the alterations. So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language. But, good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the Revelation by God’s own Messenger, then what did that mean? What did that say about the quality of the divine poetry? Look, I swear, I was shaken to my soul. It’s one thing to be a smart bastard and have half-suspicions about funny business, but it’s quite another thing to find out that you’re right.
To question Mahound (Muhammad) as a prophet, to question parts or all of the Quran, understandably the worst sort of blasphemy.

This idea is raised again when the modern Ayesha (the butterfly woman) claims to have received a revelation from Gibreel that the entire village of Titlipur should walk to Mecca, and that when they reach the sea it will part to allow them to pass. Later pressed to reveal how this revelation came to her she admits that she heard in in the lyrics of popular songs of the day.


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A second theme that fascinates me is the experience of the migrant, which is also a metamorphosis. But there will be time enough in this thread for that.
Yes, what I took from the overall story of Saladin Chamcha was that his metamorphosis, purposely erasing his Indian identity to assume a British one, was a false effort, the work of Satan so to speak. Becoming a success, but as an actor whose face no one sees but who can imitate anyone. He recovers his true self only on returning to India and marrying Zeenat Vakil.

Rushdie also has some negative things to say about what sort of discrimination and abuse an immigrant, especially one of brown to black skin shade, can expect in Great Britain.

So I found this a very complex book and probably have only grasped the meaning of some of it. I am really looking forward to more discussion from others.
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Old 09-23-2013, 01:39 AM   #12
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There's a truck load of cultural and religious references that I think you probably need to have at least a basic understanding of to really "get" where he's going. I actually don't, which I think is going to hamper my ability to comprehend and discuss his message.
I actually don't either. But here is my subjective opinion of this book:

Apparently The Satanic Verses is built upon the work and thought of Lucretius (The Nature of Things), Ovid (Metamorphoses), James Joyce (everything), as well as upon Islamic texts, history, and culture, Indian history and culture, and God knows what else.

Inexplicably, while reading this book that I hated at the outset, the idea struck me that I really wanted to understand what Rushdie wanted to relate. It was a daunting thought for a high school drop-out who is generally the slowest person in the room to get the joke. But I almost grasped something in this book that felt important to me.

The grandeur of fiction (stories, parables, myths, fables) is that it is where the great ideas, which do not fit themselves to a literal synopsis, can be inferred. They grow in us as knowledge that is beyond the words by which they are imparted.

Rushdie isn't just telling us a story for our entertainment, which is disappointing if that is what we want from him. He is trying to transmit ideas, even if maybe they are mostly questions, in a series of parables with an erudite ancestry. He isn't easy, and whether he is worth the effort probably depends upon how much we, individually, need to make sense of the questions he poses.
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Old 09-24-2013, 01:09 PM   #13
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OK - finally finished. Really enjoyed this book. I was lost on a lot of things and having now read through the comments, I can certainly relate a feeling of confusion at times, and not being sure really what Rushdie was getting at.

However, it was a lovely book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It's not my first Rushdie and the other books I've read have left me feeling similarly content.

The end of the story was magnificent with Saladin Chamcha and his father - and the lamp. Oooh wonderful!

In the blurb on the back of my book, it mentions a parallel with Gulliver's Travels and that has a ring of truth to it for me. I would add to that the rather absurd The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

What I got from it?

I definitely responded to the nature of good and evil. I didn't so much feel the metamorphosis, possibly because I already found myself taking the Ovid view that the change was not the change. Which is why the story ended like it did.

However, I just adored all the links Al-lat with Alleluia, Gibreel with - well Gibreel, the two significant planes Bostan and Gulistan. Gibreel and Saladin were ejected from one garden after leaving home and Saladin was carried home in the other. Sisodia as someone but I don't know who. His convenient appearances are even remarked on at the end of the book. And the stories... loved them.

Also, I'm not sure if there is significance is the fact that there are two Ayeshas, two Hinds and two Mishals. I also wonder if the believer turned cynic Salman is intentionally named thusly.

It was interesting seeing the differences in conflict in London versus Bombay with the main religious heavyweights belting it out in India, whereas race is the major divide in London. In both places, you notice Saladin ends up with an activist - almost to show their mirror-like relationship to Saladin. Pamela was London to Saladin, whereas Zeeny Vakil could very well have represented India.

What Rushdie was saying about religion is possibly hard to say. He has had his own religious history, starting Muslim, becoming an atheist, implying that he'd reverted, retracted the reversion.

I'm still thinking that Salman in the story is a bit close though don't you think?

Anyway - this is my usual erratic drivel to start off my discussion. Really enjoyed this book. Gave it 4 stars.

EDIT: I think I posted this late and night - repetition, poor expression. I'm beginning to think I need to hire an editor for my forum posts.

Last edited by caleb72; 09-26-2013 at 08:06 AM.
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Old 09-28-2013, 04:15 AM   #14
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Finally - finished this last night. I don't think I've ever taken so long to read a book, the whole month spent with this and nothing else!

Did I enjoy it? Not sure really, I was confused and looking for the 'got it' moment for a long time. The different threads running through the story entertained me, however most of my time was spent trying to work out what was going on and how it all fit together. I think a lot fell into place towards the end and I finished with a sense of satisfaction (relief?).

I think if I read it again I'd enjoy it more but, with so many books on my TBR list, that's not likely!
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Old 09-29-2013, 06:23 AM   #15
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The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. What did you think?
I've finally decided to abandon it. I got 2/5ths of the way through, and took a break. I have felt no desire to take it back up again, nor has any of the discussion in this thread changed my mind.

I don't have any confidence that persisting with the book would be rewarding for me. I think I gave it a fair crack of the whip.

1/5 from me.
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