Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 216 pages, 1990

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: Here it is, my yearly treat/rationing of a Salman Rushdie book. I want to give myself as long a time as possible for my reading speed to catch up to his writing speed, because the thought of not having a new Rushdie book to look forward to is too sad to contemplate.

Synopsis: Young Haroun’s father, Rashid, is a great storyteller that drives his wife into the arms of another man because she feels he’s too lost in imaginary worlds to focus on the realities of life. Angrily, Haroun curses his father for ruining their lives, and Rashid finds he’s suddenly lost his gift to spin wonderful tales, filling Haroun with regret. A strange series of events lands them in a bizarre land that seems an awful lot like one of Rashid’s stories, where they suddenly find more is at stake than just Rashid’s lost talent.

Why you should read this book: The set-up of Haroun may sound like a kiddie book, but Rushdie’s clever and playful writing style is far beyond a six-year-old’s appreciation level. If you’ve ever looked at Rushdie’s much longer novels with a sense of apprehension over his status as a literary (read: difficult) author, have no fear. Although this book isn’t targeted at children, it’s certainly doesn’t require anywhere near as much effort of some of his other novels (however worth the effort). You can call Haroun whatever you like – magical realism, a fairy-tale for grown-ups – as long as you approach it with a sense of fun. You’re certainly not going to find tongue-in-cheek Beatles references in the Brothers Grimm fairy-tales, but Rushdie pulls it off by keeping a straight-face, so to speak, ensuring it reads just as well if you miss it. Rushdie has a wonderful imagination – a mystical world ruled by the Walrus, an ocean filled with pairs of rish that speak in rhyming couplets, a villain named the Prince of Silence because of his determination to eradicate stories, and many Processes Too Complicated to Explain. A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Why you should avoid this book: A healthy dose of child-like wonder mixed in with an adult appreciation for the written word would be the best way to ensure enjoyment of Haroun and his adventures. In other words, there’s not much of a point in reading the book if you’re firmly planted in reality and want your books that way as well. Although this is a great place to begin reading Rushdie, if you’ve already read some of his heavier novels, Haroun may feel a little too light and simple if that’s not want you wanted or expected.

Opening paragraph:

There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue.

Fabulous quotes:

Now the Tale of the Moody Land was one of Rashid Khalifa’s best-loved stories. It was the story of a magical country that changed constantly, according to the moods of its inhabitants. In the Moody Land, the sun would shine all night if there were enough joyful people around, and it would go on shining until the endless sunshine got on their nerves; then an irritable night would fall, a night full of mutterings and discontent, in which the air felt too thick to breathe. And when people got angry the ground would shake; and when people were muddled or uncertain about things the Moody Land got confused as well – the outlines of its buildings and lamp-posts and motor-cars got smudgy, like paintings whose colours had run, and at such times it could be difficult to make out where one thing ended and another began…’Am I right?’ Haroun asked his father. ‘Is this the place the story was about?’

‘Well, sir, it’s like this. All my life I’ve heard about the wonderful Sea of Stories, and Water Genies, and everything; but I started believing only when I saw Iff in my bathroom the other night. And now that I’ve actually come to Kahani and seen with my own eyes how beautiful the Ocean is, with its Story Streams in colours whose names I don’t even know, and its Floating Gardeners and Plentimaw Fishes and all, well, it turns out I may be too late, because the whole Ocean’s going to be dead any minute if we don’t do something. And it turns out that I don’t like the idea of that, sir, not one bit. I don’t like the idea that all the good stories in the world will go wrong for ever and ever, or just die. As I say, I only just started believing in the Ocean, but maybe it isn’t too late for me to do my bit.’

Also recommended: Big Fish by Daniel Wallace; Life of Pi by Yann Martel; The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket; Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde.

Also by this author: Shalimar the Clown; Step Across This Line: Collected Non-Fiction 1992-2002; Fury; The Ground Beneath Her Feet; The Moor’s Last Sigh; East, West: Stories; Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticisms 1981-1991; The Satanic Verses; The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey; Shame; Midnight’s Children; Grimus.

Fun tidbit: Rushdie has said that reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass is what inspired him to start his writing career.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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