Satanic Verses, The
The Satanic Verses
a novel by Salman Rushdie, published in 1988. This complex, polyphonic novel is an ambitious attempt to conflate the harsh realities of migrants' lives in Britain's inner cities with the cultural fantasies that inhabit them and constitute another, phantasmagoric dimension of reality. These conflicting levels of consciousness are embodied in the antithetical characters of Saladin Chamcha, an Anglicized Indian and minor actor, and Gibreel Farishta, Bombay's leading cinematic icon and superhero. The two men's lives connect when they survive the bombing of a plane over the English Channel. Though their journeys separate them, their destinies will intertwine, illustrating different aspects of the immigrant experience, at a political and an allegorical level. Saladin, whose life has hitherto been lived in the precarious cocoon of painfully achieved assimilation, is transformed into a monster, the author's metaphor for the plight of the dispossessed and their objectification by the Other's gaze. Gibreel, on the other hand, becomes angel-like and prone to visions and revelations. The dream-like state in which he faces an alien world is the source of the novel's most controversial sections, in which the histories and traditions of Islam, notably the life of Muhammad, are rewritten from the perspective of a schizophrenic's distorted imagination. In other visions, Gibreel—whose roles in these hallucinations is that of his namesake, the angel Gabriel—leads a charismatic young woman in rural India to guide her gullible followers to a projected pilgrimage that will end in their self-annihilation by drowning. Khomeini, too, makes an appearance in yet another dream. If these sections articulate Rushdie's critique of faith's easy transformation into manipulation, hegemony, and superstition, the parallel account of Saladin's decline and fall into the world of inner-city immigrant lives allows Rushdie to comment on the state of Britain today. These sections stress the celebratory aspects of hybridization, multiple identities, and cultural collisions. A novel that concerns itself above all with the nature of change—in spite of its implicitly avowed trajectory, the examination of the nature and relativity of good and evil—The Satanic Verses, in its concluding sections, reflects its own project by changing into a Shakespearian melodrama of suspected adultery, pathological jealousy, and murder. A paradoxically affirmative ending sees Saladin reconciled with the memory of his father, with his own heritage, and, it is implied, with the actuality of his double existence as Indian and expatriate.
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