I have known the name and story of Salmon Rushdie ever since he wrote and published "The Satanic Verses," but I had not taken the time to read him until I became aware of "Luka and the Fire of Life." What a marvelous little book. Reading it filled me with delight.
Rushdie has dedicated this book to his second son, much as he had dedicated "Haroun and the Sea Stories" to his oldest son. This present tale involves a family - father, mother and two sons - that seems to be a fictionalized version of Rushdie's own family. Luka pronounces a curse on a circus ringmaster who has been abusing the circus animals. He is astonished to discover that he has magic powers and the curse has actually worked. In retaliation, the ring master places a counter-curse of Luka's father, who falls into a deep sleep from which he seems to be drifting away into nothingness. Luka learns that the only way to save his father's life and return him to the land of the living, is to venture into the Magic World and steal the Fire of Life. And so begins his series of adventures - and misadventures.
I could picture Rushdie having fun writing this tale and reading it to his son. The book will delight children with its rich characters and constant pitting of good versus evil. It will also delight adults who will notice Rushdie's abundant use of literary allusions and tipping of his hat to countless familiar fairy tales and books of adventure. I will offer a partial list of the literary tributes he pays, but I eventually stopped counting them because there was a steady stream of them. Rushdie offers a nod of appreciation and recognition to "The Phantom Toll Booth," "Alice and Wonderland," Jason and the Argonauts, countless Disney tales, Arlo Guthrie, 1001 Arabian Nights, Sherlock Holmes, "Back to the Future," Shakespeare and the traditional Protestant hymnal!
Rushdie gives us his philosophy of storytelling and his love of using language whimsically as a plaything when he speaks to us through the voice of the chief antagonist - a harbinger of death called "Nobodaddy":
"'But that's just a story' said Luka faintly.
'Just a story?' echoed Nobodaddy in what sounded like genuine horror. 'Only a tale?' My ears must be deceiving me. Surely, young whippersnapper, you can't have made such a foolish remark. After all, you yourself are a little Drip from the Ocean of Notions, a short Blurt from the Shah of Blah. You of all boys should know that Man is a storytelling Animal, and that in stories are his identity, his meaning, and his lifeblood. Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants elephantisize? You know as well as I do that they do not. Man alone burns with book." (Page 36)
Luka - and I suspect Rushdie's real second-born son - is enamored of video games. So the narrative of this tale is told as if Luka is traveling through many levels of a living, three-and-four-dimensional video game. He rings a bell to "save his progress" after every successful task his been completed.
This book is a veritable compendium of pop culture. Within the framework of fun and phantasmagoria, Rushdie also manages to address a serious topic. He leads us through a very serious contemplation of the nature and the power of imagination, story and fantasy in our lives and in our society.
Read this book for yourself - and read it to your kids and grand kids.