Salman Rushdie,
Luka & the Fire of Life
(Random House, 2010)

In this sequel to Haroun & the Sea of Stories, Luka, the second son of famous storyteller Rashid Khalifa, undertakes a magical adventure, just as he's always longed to do. Sadly, he finds his way to the magical lands because his father is trapped in an unshakable sleep. If Luka cannot maneuver his way through the videogame-like obstacles of Rashid's tales and bring back the Fire of Life, that sleep will fade into death.

Luka finds his way filled with beings from his father's stories, including all the gods and goddesses of classical pantheons, a country of insulters and the chilling guardians of time. Luckily, Luka is not alone -- his party includes a dancing bear (named Dog), a singing dog (named Bear) and a ghostly version of his father. Plus, Luka's garnered a few hundred lives to spare in this game....

Luka's fragility and determination make him a very likeable hero. It's easy to root for a boy who faces off against everything with the same awareness and stubbornness, in spite of any bizarreness or trauma. Rushdie's turns of phrase paint delightful pictures of the World of Magic and supporting characters, also. Unfortunately, this sequel lacks the creative fire of Haroun & the Sea of Stories. Luka's quest is overshadowed by Rushdie's attempt to explicitly connect it to the modern world, increasingly bogged down with incessant references rather than original creations, and lacking the enchantment that accompanied its predecessor.

While both books begin with a serious problem and end in its sudden cure, it is far more jarring this time around. Haroun's tale had the zest and fairy-tale spirit to carry it off, whereas Luka's simulation is too obviously a self-aware coping mechanism, as well as needing an additional forced plotpoint to carry it off. Moreover, Haroun's quest had plenty of other new things to discover so that the final ending felt simple and right. Luka's mission is always totally focused on one thing instead of finding another purpose, and it feels more like an episodic resume of Rushdie's mythical thoughts than a whole story that flows on its own.

In short, I feel like Luka & the Fire of Life was Rushdie writing as the learned Rashid Khalifa, rather than the actual hero or the readers. Perhaps Rashid, with his onstage presence and magical voice, could have given this tale that spark of life, but without that there's a disconnect. This book still has a lot to enjoy ... but Rushdie can do better.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Whitney Mallenby

22 June 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new