May 2, 2012

The Satanic Verses Review

Today, I finally get around to the very first Book Nook post! I sometimes read too many books at once and it takes me ages to finish any one of them. This book was selected for a local book club meeting I had planned to attend, but I ended up missing it due to unforeseen circumstances. I did, eventually, manage to finish reading it.

Satanic Verses was written by Salman Rushdie in 1988. It's still a controversial book, as it lead to a call for Rushdie's death. Numerous attempts were made on his life (to the point where he went into hiding), as well as the killing of many others. The book itself was banned in many places and copies were burned because it contains what some people consider blasphemous content.

Unfortunately for the book, the controversy surrounding it is far more interesting than the text itself. The magical realism throughout should have been a draw for me, but between his superfluous descriptions and the way it skipped around through time, I could not really get invested. It's not the easiest read because of those time jumps (and because Rushdie uses a lot of untranslated Arabic), but sadly, it's not worth the effort put into it.

Neither of the main characters, Gibreel and Saladin were particularly likeable, relatable, or even very interesting. Gibreel is a childish movie actor, and Saladin is a voice actor who wants nothing more than to abandon his Indian heritage. These remain at the core of their problems for the duration of the novel. Neither of them really develop as characters, despite the physical changes that take place. In the very end, Saladin learns something about himself, but he still doesn't grow much as a result.

The cast of supporting characters is a dazzling array, but they're largely filler for the main arc of the story. With the exception of Alleluia Cone, Gibreel's love interest for most of the novel, many of them are completely forgettable, even if they have important roles to play.

Despite having been written the year I was born, a lot of the major themes such as the death of a parent, love affairs, immigration, and even terrorism are all still very relevant today. The problem is that none of these themes make the main characters more interesting or stand up strong enough on their own to draw you into the fold.

After having read up a bit on the controversy (since I was far too young at the time to remember it), I can see why some people would be upset about it, but the author has a right to express himself. It's a shame that the issues around it became larger than the book itself, because it doesn't warrant much acclaim on its own.

This book is certainly no Brave New World or Huck Finn, which have both seen their share of controversy, but are vastly better written. Unless you have a particular interest in the experience of immigrants in Britain, which is dealt with in interesting ways, I don't see the need to pick it up.


  1. I read this... maybe 12 years ago, and remember walking away knowing that I'd take away a lot more from it if I understood more about Islam and about Indian culture.

    Midnight's Children is a must-read.

    1. As luck would have it, I know a bit more than the average American about India's history and culture, and it was invaluable. I just couldn't bring myself to translate all the foreign language fragments. It would have been incredibly tedious.

      I will look into Midnight's Children. Thanks for the suggestion!


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