Salman Rushdie, Haroun & the Sea of Stories (Granta, 1991)

Haroun & the Sea of Stories is one of those books which transcend generations with a story that appeals to all. Rushdie's simple, lucid narrative is packed with insight which never overwhelms or diminishes the storytelling.

Haroun Khalifa lives in the country of Alifbay, in a city so sad its inhabitants have forgotten its name. In spite of the permeating sadness, Haroun's father, Rashid, is extraordinarily cheerful. Rashid is a renowned storyteller. He knows so many stories and tells them so brilliantly that he is known as the "Ocean of Notions" and the "Shah of Blah."

One disastrous day, Rashid's storytelling dries up. Desperate to help his father, Haroun finds his way to Kahani, Earth's second moon kept invisible by a P2C2E -- a Process Too Complicated To Explain. Kahani is home to the Ocean of the Streams of Story, the source for all storytellers who subscribe, via a P2C2E, of course. The process is controlled by the Walrus, Grand Comptroller of Gup, a land of perpetual sunshine.

Unfortunately, Khattam-Shud, the despotic leader of the dark and silent land of Chup is polluting the Ocean of the Streams of Story. Haroun, his father and a remarkable cast of curious characters -- Iff, the Water Genie; Butt the Hoopoe; Mali, a Floating Gardener, just to name a few -- lead the way in a brave attempt to save the Ocean.

Rushdie uses the simplest language in his tale and evokes vivid and clear images. He has an excellent sense of the rhythm of language, and the entire novel is laced with deft humor. The characters and lively and memorable; the reader cares about what happens to them. Best of all, the story is so accessible that each reader is certain to get something out of it.

Haroun & the Sea of Stories is the first novel Rushdie published after going into hiding, and the reader aware of his plight will see it mirrored in the repressive Khattam-Shud. There is an underlying message about the importance of free speech and independent thought, but the message never overwhelms the story; it enhances it. Finally, it is also a story about the love between a parent and a child. Rushdie dedicates the book to his son, Zafar, with a simple acrostic verse spelling out his son's name. It is hard to imagine anyone not being moved by the simple entreaty in the last line: "Read, and bring me home to you."

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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