The Satanic Verses begins with its two heroes falling to earth on New Year’s Day after terrorists blow up the plane on which they were traveling to London. Is it any surprise that what follows is one of the most extraordinary novels ever written? Although it can be compared to the works of Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Günter Grass, Gabriel Gárcia Márquez, and Vladimir Nabokov, only Salman Rushdie could have written it, and it stands as a compendium of all the themes and techniques of his career.
When they miraculously land on the English coast alive, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha find that they have been reborn and transformed. Gibreel, an amoral Indian film star who has been known to play as many as fifty different gods in a single week in the Bombay cinema’s theologicals, has lost his faith and had a breakdown but lands with what appears to be a halo around his head. Saladin Chamcha, an actor who has rejected his Indian roots to become as English as possible, and who has achieved great success in London because he has the chameleon-like power to create exactly the right voice to advertise every product, lands and immediately begins to turn into a cloven-hoofed devil.
The novel that tells their story moves from London to India and the Middle East, from the time of Muhammad to the era of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the ayatollah, from the day’s headlines to the farthest reaches of fantasy. Saladin becomes an outcast. He is rejected by his wife and friends, protected by the immigrants whom he had earlier despised, and transformed into their hope of revenge on the racism of the English before he returns home to India,...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
Odd-numbered chapters. Around New Year’s Day, just before dawn, Sikh terrorists destroy an Air India jumbo jet in flight. Two passengers miraculously, or fantastically, fall safely into the English Channel, one flapping his arms and singing, the other desperately, doubtfully, clinging to his companion. Forty-year-old Gibreel Farishta, née Ismail Najruddin, is a poor orphan who has grown up to become India’s biggest film star. “Fortyish” Saladin Chamcha, née Salahuddin Chamchawala, the estranged Anglophile son of a prominent Bombay businessman, is also an actor; a master mimic, he is the costar of the popular English television series The Aliens. The two men interpret their salvation differently, and, once ashore, they experience very different receptions. Unable to prove his identity and having begun to assume a goatlike appearance and smell, Chamcha is arrested and verbally and physically abused by racist police officers. Gibreel, dressed in the clothes of his host’s (Rosa Diamond’s) late husband, is allowed to go free.
Chamcha’s situation worsens. Escaping from a migrants-only ward of the mental hospital, where he was committed once the police discovered that he was what he claimed to be, a British citizen, he returns home to find his very proper-sounding and proper-looking English wife, Pamela Lovelace, in bed with another man, Jamsheed Joshi. He also finds he is without a job, the role of Maxim Alien having been cut by the show’s Thatcherite producer, Hal Valence. With “Jumpy” Joshi’s help, he secures temporary lodgings in the kind of immigrant neighborhood that he has spent much of his life trying to avoid. As his anger and helplessness grow, so does Chamcha. Local activists transform the satanic-looking eight-foot-tall satyr into an immigrant hero. Not until he vents his rage in a local nightspot where Asians, West Indians, and others dance alongside wax effigies of developing world heroes and their English oppressors (including Margaret Thatcher) is he able to resume his...
(The entire section is 830 words.)