08 September 2015
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
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, where beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse.
Confession: I have only ever read Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (sorry, Midnight's Children, I'll get to you someday...I hope). So I came to Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights without a lot of expectations aside from expecting some weird, given the blurb.
There's a lot of weird. Two Years is a weird, crazy ride of a novel. Apocalyptic, ur-fairy tale combined with political and cultural commentary. And humor, humor of the absurd that makes you double-take because it's wrapped up in the fantastical events of the end of the world, known as the War of the Worlds (Rushdie peppered the book with literary references, Candide by Voltaire being a very obvious one). There's a baby that causes corrupt people to visibly rot if they touch her. There's a woman who takes revenge on a lover by hitting him with lightning bolts. There's a gardener who wakes up one morning to find that he is gradually rising into the air. And the world starts going crazy with super-weather events and political meltdown.
What ties all this together are the jinni and jinnia - the "genies" of legend, both male and female, good and evil, who go to war over the future of humanity and the philosophy of religion and reason - and the descendants of a union between a powerful jinn princess and a human man. Rushdie uses the idea of Shahrazad and the tales of 1,001 nights as a way into his fantastical timeline with some beautiful interpolations of fairy tales from different cultures.
Two Years is an interesting novel but it's almost too over-stuffed, filled with what seems to be a cast of thousands. There are so many moving parts that I started to lose track of them all. There are the four Great Ifrits, two dead philosophers, the jinnia Dunia, Dunia's descendants, random family members/acquaintances/who knows what hangers-on of the descendants, and members of the populace at large and each of these has vivid description and narrative timelines criss-crossing one another. If it weren't for the fact that Rushdie has a way of writing sentences that slip into the brain like "buddah" Two Years would be a hard novel to read. I liked it but I didn't want to marinate in the sentences in the same way I did when reading The Satanic Verses.
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is available today, September 8, wherever books are sold.
Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.