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Cannonball Read V: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

By 30×60 | Book Reviews | January 11, 2013 | Comments ()


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I first became interested in reading this novel after seeing the author Salman Rushdie interviewed on CBC 's "The Hour." He spoke about how a fatwa was issued for his death by the leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, about a year after it was published in 1988. I was curious to know what could have been so controversial about a book that people would want to kill a man for having written it.

The title, The Satanic Verses, relates to a number of verses that were said to be included in the Qur'an by the prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was a prophet of Islam which states that God is one and incomparable. These satanic verses suggested that prayers could also be made to 3 pagan goddesses Allat, Uzza and Manat, thus undermining the monotheism that is at the core of Islam. Basically he is said to have accepted these deities because the people of Mecca resisted his idea of one God. He then renounced the verses saying that Satan had made him say these things.

The basic plot concerns two Indian actors, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha who are trapped on a hijacked plane that explodes over the English Channel. Everyone on board dies except these two men who magically fall to earth and under go some strange transformations. Farishta seemingly becomes an angel and Chamcha becomes a devil-even growing hooves and horns. Throughout the book there are several chapters that describe the dreams of the angel Gibreel although it is implied that he may just be crazy rather than an angel sent to do God's work.

There is so much symbolism and historical and spiritual context that I think it would be helpful to know more about world religion than I do to really appreciate this book. This was not an easy book. I had to force myself to see it through to the end. The writing is demanding and the dialogue is sparse. It began to get somewhat interesting around the 250 page mark. The story covers both men's struggles to return to the lives that they had before their fall to earth. After the crash, Chamcha is seen as an illegal immigrant and is betrayed by Farishta who does not speak up to tell the authorities otherwise. This betrayal and Chamcha's need to revenge it along with Farisha's increasing mania and jealousy towards those around him make up the remainder of the book.

I liked this novel and I have a great appreciation for the author and what he has created. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging read. Although I am giving this review 2 stars which suggests this was merely a "good book" I do believe that I learned a lot from reading it and I think that others could as well.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and find more of 30x60's reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links
in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Mikey

    Having read the book several years ago, and my memory being what it is, it's my understanding he was targeted for a few reasons. So, SPOILERS I guess?

    At one point in the story, Gibreel goes back in his memories, to where Mohammed takes over a town and shuts down a brothel. A eunuch begins to run his own brothel, where each prostitute pretends to be one of Mohammed's wives. The brothel is extremely popular, even with some of Mohammed's cohorts.

    Also, the book is essentially 2 stories; one dealing with the actors and their transformations, and another dealing with the quest of a female prophet in an imaginary kingdom and her rise to fame. This could've been a short novel on its own, it's really great.

    There's also a part with what I remember being a giant incarnation of some Islamist ruler, who claims the only way to rule effectively is to make the people fear you, etc.

    None of these plot points were popular with some extreme Islamist sects, my guess is that's what the fatwa was issued over. Hope that clears things up for all of you who don't want to read it, but I enjoyed it.

  • JQ

    You hope that your (erroneous) guess regarding why the fatwa was issued "clears things up for all of [us] who don't want to read it"? What the fuck has happened to Pajiba in the last 2 years? Are the comment threads entirely populated by imbeciles now?

    According to a Muslim tradition, the prophet Muhammed added verses to the Qu'ran accepting three goddesses as divine beings. However, Muhammed later claimed that the devil had tempted him to include the verses in order to appease the Meccans as they had previously worshipped the goddesses. Muhammed subsequently revoked them - hence "The Satanic Verses."

    In the novel, the narrator (Muhammed) reveals that it was in fact the Archangel Gibreel who dictated these verses to him, implying that this temptation of the devil was in fact the word of god, and playing with the idea that the scripture could have been dictated by man himself, not by an infallible god.

    The fatwa against Rushdie was issued by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time. Khomeini, who almost certainly had not even read the book, called it "blasphemous against Islam."

  • Guest

    I was working in a downtown bookstore that carried SV when the fatwa happened. Good times.

  • dAvid

    I wouldn't recommend this as a first Rushdie book. I'd probably go with Ground Beneath Her Feet or Midnight's Children to get a gentler introduction to his style. Once you're used to it, he's much easier and more fun to read.

  • Zirza

    I agree it's not an easy read, but I had much less trouble getting through this one than I did with Midnight's Children...

    But it helped I was reading it for a literature course under the guidance of my postcolonial literature professor. Shit's DEEP, y'all.

  • I agree. This book left me feeling like my lack of knowledge had me missing almost everything. It was a beautiful read, but it's really wearying to feel like you're not picking up the intended meaning.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    This is one of those books that I feel like I should read, but really don't want to, because I should read it. And now I feel like maybe it's too late, and I shouldn't bother, but then again, maybe I should. Nah, but thanks for the review!

  • pandora

    Don't bother. I started it 4 times and never got more than 50 pages in and even that was a struggle. I used to be one of those people who'd struggle through a boring or unreadable book the way people do an extra half hour on the stairmaster under the assumption it was "good for me". But books are such a have investment in time and I have so little time to read for pleasure that the idea of committing significant time to something that bores me rigid seems idiotic now.

  • BWeaves

    I always wondered what this was about. Other than the title, I'm not getting why Rushdie was targeted with a fatwa. Did anyone Iran actually read the novel, or just the title? It reminds me of how certain Christian groups would ban Harry Potter saying it promoted Satanism.

  • I read this a while ago and I seem to remember that Mohammed was a character in a few sections. I'm not sure about all the ins and outs of fatwas, but that alone might have been enough.

  • I haven't read Satanic Verses, so thanks for the reminder 30x60!

    My Greek mythology course introduced me to Rushdie and sweeping majestic novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet. It's also a bit challenging but highly recommended if you want tackle more of his ouvre.

  • Kballs

    He also fatwa'd Padma Lakshmi's lady balls for several years.

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