Friday 15 December 2017

Review: Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie

Jonathan Cape, €17.99, Hardback

Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, based on stories told to his elder son and published when the boy was 12, became an international hit back in 1990.

That was soon after Islamist extremists took offence at Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses and declared a fatwa. With a younger son now approaching 12, something just as memorable as Haroun, but different, was called for.

Life has moved on. For one thing, Rushdie is no longer in hiding. For another, the challenges for mythical heroes have morphed into virtual mode in video games. Does this mean that traditional stories can survive only as a satirical take on the originals, or as comic-book simplification? Not in this adventure. Rushdie shows that age-old themes can still fan the fire of fiction readers.

Our hero is Luka, whose father suddenly falls ill. The only way that Luka (incidentally, the middle name of Rushdie's younger son) can save him is to steal the Fire of Life. Luka, accompanied by his dog named Bear, and a bear called Dog, must take on the terrors of the World of Magic, with its Inescapable Whirlpool, its Mountain of Knowledge, Tree of Terror -- and much more.

Such quests are not new; certainly not to sub-teens weaned on video games. So whether or not this can work depends on how it's told.

Rushdie packs in mythical allusions as numerous as an Indian bride's jewellery, and embellishes with puns and word games familiar from his adult fiction. This story teems with gods now redundant, among them Dagda (a 'wild Irish fellow'), and the Sphinx of riddle fame, but Rushdie cannily weaves in video-game conventions, too.

Luka's tale demands to be read aloud, as bedtime treats for six- to 10-year-olds, but it contains enough cleverness to keep adults from nodding off.

Rushdie explores serious themes -- the bond between a father and son; and, by extension, the link between past, present and future -- and he makes of them something memorable for kids both small and big.

Mary Shine Thompson is former dean at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, a college of Dublin City University.

Irish Independent

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