The Satanic Verses

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE SATANIC VERSES opens with two characters, Gibreel and Saladin, miraculously surviving a 29,000-foot fall from an exploding plane onto an English beach. During their descent, Gibreel, a Bombay superstar famous for portraying Indian deities, acquires a halo like the archangel Gabriel, whom he dreams himself into impersonating throughout the novel. Saladin, an Indian migrant who has become a snobbish Anglophile, grows horns and cloven hooves and turns into the Devil. The novel unfolds between these characters through a series of fascinating and often irreverent narratives with the flavor of a twentieth century THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS. Opponents in the struggle between good and evil, Gibreel and Saladin constitute the novel’s thesis and antithesis. Yet because the novel blurs the distinction between good and evil, a thematic synthesis never occurs: Gibreel is involved in several deaths, Saladin in acts of compassion.

If Salman Rushdie has a message, it must be that the days of revelation are long gone. The best he can do to clear things up is have his narrator repeat, in the Arab storytelling refrain, “It was so, it was not.” One of the most controversial aspects of Rushdie’s universal doubting concerns his allegedly blasphemous attitude toward the Koran and Islam. For example, he refers to Muhammad by the derogatory name Mahound, a term once used for the Devil. Though Rushdie claims to be repossessing pejorative language so people can “wear with pride the names they were given in...

(The entire section is 617 words.)