Sunday, 22 March 2015

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Sir Salman Rusdhie – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘In a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it has forgotten its name, a professional storyteller named Rashid lives with his son Haroun.

Rashid is the Shah of Blah, with oceans of notions and the Gift of the Gab. Ask the Shah of Blah for a story and you won’t get any old story. Nor will you get just one. You’ll get many stories, hundreds of stories, funny and sad stories, all of them juggled at once, complete with bits of sorcery and bits of love, princesses, wicket uncles and fat aunts, moustachioed gangsters in yellow checked pants and galf a dozen catchy tunes.

But one day things – many things – go terribly wrong. Rashid is left by his wife. Then, when Rashid opens his mouth, no story comes out: only a horrid barking sound. The Shah of Blah has lost his Gift of the Gab because, unknown to him, something very bad has occurred: somewhere, somehow, the wellspring of all stories is slowly being contaminated. Khattam-Shud – the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech – has secretly set out to pollute the very Sea of Stories itself.’

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a Rushdie novel meant for younger readers and is dedicated to his elder son, Zafar (whose middle name happens to be Haroun). I read the Midnight’s Children and I wanted to read a lighter work of Rushdie after that and this seemed an obvious choice.

The story starts at a city, the saddest of all cities, where lives one happy family, of the storyteller Rashid Khalifa with his singing wife and son Haroun. However, there comes a day, when, his wife leaves him and Rashid loses his ability to tell stories, and eventually is forced to leave the city on to the valley of K to support the campaigns of a cynical politician named Buttoo. Haroun, determined to bring back the ability of his father, happens to meet a Water Genie from the world of stories, steals his magic wrench and tricks the genie to take him to the world of stories, called Kahani so that he can bring back his father’s abilities and the story is about Haroun’s adventures in this world.

To start with, I felt I got what I wanted – a novel for light reading, written by Rushdie and I guess there couldn’t have been a better choice than this. It was short, simple, but at the same time, wasn’t free from his exquisite imagination and imagery. I really loved his imagination and the way he described the world of stories – Kahani and the characteristics of the protectors of stories and the opponents of the same. It was very much an ordinary princess rescuing story (often told bed time stories) however, what made this special was the element of magic realism and the same happening in this new world (the unseen moon of earth, according to the story) – Kahani. I liked the way how Rushdie brought about the organisational structure of the army in Kahani – split into chapters served by pages (soldiers) and how, in spite of including a romantic sub-plot between Haroun and the page Blabbermouth, it didn’t affect the flow of the story in anyway and there was absolutely no digression. I also liked the names that Rushdie had chosen for the characters in the book but as I’m someone who can speak Hindustani (Hindi / Urdu), there was no element of surprise and the last page of the novel was unnecessary but for someone who doesn’t, it would’ve certainly been a good element in the novel.  Of course, like any other bed time story meant for younger readers, it has a happy ending.

The only two problems I had with this book was – some pointless imagery, especially inside the boat at the Valley of K and I felt Rushdie didn’t give enough room for the reader to interpret, either. Also, I felt the publisher gave away too many details in the write-up and also claimed this novel to be ageless which I’d disagree, for I certainly couldn’t appreciate this book as much as Midnight’s Children and I also believe that I would’ve appreciated this book a lot more had I been ten years younger.

I felt this is a very good book for anybody start their foray into books and reading considering the quality of writing you’re exposed to at a young age; and I believe, had I stumbled upon this earlier, I would’ve got into this much earlier than I did, which happened to be at the age of thirteen. If any young reader asks me a suggestion for a book to read, this would certainly make it to the top of the list that I’d be suggesting. Kudos to Rusdhie and I shall soon be reading Luka and the Land of Fire (I already have it in my shelf).

Rating 7 / 10 (I’m deducting one, probably because I’ve read it ten years too late).

Have a nice day,


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