Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
by Salman Rushdie
Rating: 4 Stars
‘In the near future, after a storm strikes New York City, the strangenesses begin. A down-to-earth gardener finds that his feet no longer touch the ground. A graphic novelist awakens in his bedroom to a mysterious entity that resembles his own sub-Stan Lee creation. Abandoned at the mayor’s office, a baby identifies corruption with her mere presence, marking the guilty with blemishes and boils. A seductive gold digger is soon tapped to combat forces beyond imagining.
Unbeknownst to them, they are all descended from the whimsical, capricious, wanton creatures known as the jinn, who live in a world separated from ours by a veil. Centuries ago, Dunia, a princess of the jinn, fell in love with a mortal man of reason. Together they produced an astonishing number of children, unaware of their fantastical powers, who spread across generations in the human world.
Once the line between worlds is breached on a grand scale, Dunia’s children and others will play a role in an epic war between light and dark spanning a thousand and one nights – or two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. It is a time of enormous upheaval, in which beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse.
Inspired by the traditional ‘wonder tales’ of the East, Salman Rushdie’s novel is a masterpiece about the age-old conflicts that remain in today’s world. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is satirical and bawdy, full of cunning and folly, rivalries and betrayals, kismet and karma, rapture and redemption…’
So this was my second book inspired by the mythology of 1001 nights in the past year, the first being E.K. Johnston’s spellbinding A Thousand Nights. Isn’t it strange how we suddenly get a rush on books dealing with a subject? Over the last few years we’ve had a flurry of vampires, circuses, dystopias and assassins, a 1001 nights just seems to be the latest in a string of recurring themes.
Rushdie’s response to the original text is a very different creature to Johnston’s, both in terms of form and themes. Rushdie’s tale focuses more on the mythology of the Jinn contained within the stories and also the nature of the stories themselves, whilst Johnston uses the stories to reinvent the character of Scherezade and her struggle to save the life of her sister.
But there are still similarities. They’re neither of them page turners, but the narrative has a wonderfully ponderous fable-like quality and there’s a certain tendency in their word choices toward a love of language that is incredibly compelling.
I was expecting the philosophical musing style of his latest novel. I’ve always loved Rushdie’s work. I read Haroun and the Sea of Stories in my first year of uni and absolutely loved it. I read the great, sprawling epic that is Midnight’s Children that summer and The Satanic Verses two years later in my Contemporary Lit module. I don’t think this latest work is quite in their league but there are some truly beautiful passages in here.
As ever, I enjoy Rushdie’s keen eye for the absurd, his ability to write from the fringes of life and his canny portrayal of the events of a changing world through the media.
Rushdie does a wonderful job of conveying the interconnectedness of things. It’s very clever how he manages to tie the various narratives together using this technique. Different characters seeing Storm Doe on the news, Geronimo as everyone’s gardener etc. It adds greatly to the sense of a choral narrative.
Outside of the main plot, I love the inclusion of little asides like the disappearing media star of an office worker escaping a crumbling building by sliding down the giant snake that was crushing it ‘like a helter skelter’.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book even though it wasn’t my favourite Rushdie work. I would highly recommend it!