When the Narrative is the Hero – Luka and The Fire of Life

Salman Rushdie‘s Luka and the Fire of Life was a much awaited sequel to Haroun and the sea of stories but in many ways, Luka’s adventures do not touch the peaks scaled by that of his elder brother’s tale which is not a surprise as few sequels live up to their predecessors.

In Haroun and the sea of stories, the storyteller loses his inspiration and the flow of stories were at stake. In Luka and The Fire of Life, the storyteller himself is at stake and needs to be rescued by his younger son, who by his very birth had started rendering his aged parents young. How Luka manages to save the day and his Father (no spoilers here, it is a straightforward young adult book on the lines of the standard hero’s journey) along with his trusted companions – a singing dog called Bear and a dancing bear called Dog and how he rescues his father from being taken away by Nobodaddy (an anthropomorphised version of his Father’s death ) by bringing him magic fire form the rest of the tale. The quest to find the magic fire is arranged through a series of levels similar to that of a computer game that Luka has to cross before he can reach the prize.

There are no real surprises or heavy twists or turns and at every level, Luka has serendipitous encounters as he works his way through the maze, getting chances that seem too much like flukes (such as the very old, many times told riddle about the animal walking with four, two and three legs and guessing the name of the Insultana) to be convincing and always finds someone or the other to help him at the right moment. He does not undergo a transformation as he completes his journey and even in the final situation when he needs to make a sacrifice, he gets immediate help. Except for the extraordinary wordplay and a few passages with rare flashes of insight, Luka’s story is a far too straightforward young adult book unlike Haroun’s tale which was a fable that could be read at various levels. What makes the book special is not Luka’s journey but the narrative – Rushdie’s exquisite, lyrical prose that transforms the very act of reading the book into a wonderful adventure for the reader.

Some gems from the book
“We appear to have brought into the world a fellow who can turn back Time itself, make it flow the wrong way and make us young again”
“‘’Our dreams are the real truths – our fancies, the knowledge of our hearts. We know that Time is a River, not a clock, and that it can flow the wrong way, so that the world becomes more backward instead of less, and that it can jump sideways, so that everything changes in an instant. We know that the River of Time can loop and twist and carry us back to yesterday or forwards to the day after tomorrow.”
“There are places in the world where nothing ever happens, and Time stops moving altogether. There are those of us who go on being seventeen years old all our life, and never grow up. There are others who are miserable old wretches, maybe sixty or seventy years old, from the day they are born. We know that when we fall in love, Time ceases to exist, and we also know that Time can repeat itself, so that you can be stuck in one day for the whole of your life.”
~ From Luke and The Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie

The plot is too simple, the characterisation not as great or memorable as it was in Haroun. But the narrative and the language alone (Ah Rushdie, Shah of Blah, enchanter with words) make this book worthy of being bought, read and re-read, and a contemporary classic of its time.

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Coming soon! The Re-engineers (HarperCollins) A walk through the boundaries between fiction and reality

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