Friday, 8 November 2013

Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie

I know I have written before about books that just fit. Books that snuggle into crooks and crevices of your mind, that nest as though they had been born there. Books that hit themes and subjects and loves in just the right ways. This is one of those books. In Luka and the Fire of Life, Rushdie has created a modern fairytale, weaving together myths modern and ancient in a glorious mishmash of energy, shot through with meditations on mortality and storytelling.

Of course, stories centered around death, particularly the dying of a parent, still have particular resonance. Three years on, it's not like that pain goes away. It's less acute, less omnipresent, but it's still there. So when Luka, the eponymous boy, is faced with the death of his beloved storyteller father, Rashid, and ventures into Rashid's oft-discussed Magic World to try to recover the Fire of Life, it's bound to strike a chord.

But when that is intertwined with the myths of dozen of cultures, and intertwines classic mythology with irreverent inclusions of video game tropes (shades of Scott Pilgrim, at times), and a talking dog named Bear and a dancing bear named Dog, and the Insultana of Ott, an otter who looks like Luka's mother and thrives on disrespect and insults, and the shade that is trying to claim his father, dubbed Nobodaddy and many more little touches, I just loved it.

This is, undoubtedly, a gloriously messy book. It zigs and zags, it digresses and plays, it is serious and comic, and somehow, due entirely to Rushdie's prowess, works. Luka ventures into the River of Time, past obstacles untold, all to find the Fire of Life and take it back to his father. Such a feat has not been done since the newest reorganization of the Magic World, although Luka can call on the past experiences of Coyote and Prometheus.

I would have loved this if it had just been a tour of myth and legend. But near the end, it becomes something deeper that touched me deeply. When it becomes apparent that this is a world that is entirely made up of Rashid's stories, sustained in his mind, in danger of falling apart with his death, I had to put the book down for a few minutes and catch my breath and cry. The idea of people as creators of worlds, of stories, sustained by the telling, kept in imagination, that's not new. But Rushdie takes that world and puts it at the moment of its dissipation, of death stealing stories and whole universes every time someone ceases breathing. And that nearly did me in.

I came out of the experience of being with my father while he died in the possession of several Great Truths (those that are both contradictory and simultaneously true.) One pair was that death is a natural part of life, and that death is a jagged disruption in the natural path of life. This book made me remember that jaggedness very keenly.

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