Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Luka and the Fire of Life" by Salman Rushdie

Summary: Luka has grown up hearing the elaborate stories about Magic World from his father, Rashid Khalifa.  When Luka curses Aag, a cruel circus owner, Rashid falls into a deep sleep from which he cannot be awakened.  Luka learns he must travel into Magic World and steal the Fire of Life in order to save his father.  Along the way, he meets the beings of his father's stories and uses his own knowledge of Rashid to save his father.

Musings: Luka and the Fire of Life is a somewhat deceptive book, for though it has, on the outside, the trappings of a children's tale, it's a book that recognizes and rewards its adult audience.  The novel has the style of traditional myth storytelling with a modern day setting, with an enjoyably anachronistic result.

The intrepid protagonist, Luka, travels into Magic World--his father's storytelling world--in order to find the Fire of Life.  This world is populated by an unusual mix of historical mythology (the gods and monsters of practically all cultures, from Native Americans, to ancient Greeks, to Asian folklore), invented creatures (like the Insultana of Ott, an otter queen whose society spends much of its time vigorously insulting each other), and modern pop culture (Luka advances through Magic World like he's playing a Nintendo game; heck, even Doctor Who gets mentioned!).

The tone throughout is light, often filled with wordplay and fun "wink-nudge" cleverness.  Even random moments are enjoyable, such as when Nobodaddy (the phantom being who is slowly replacing Luka's father) asks, "Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants ele-phantasize?" (34).  Or take this exchange:
"Are you familiar," he said finally, "with the Bang?"
"The Big Bang?" Luka asked. "Or some other Bang I don't know about?"
"There was only one Bang," said Nobodaddy, "so the adjective Big is redundant and meaningless. The Bang would only be Big if there was at least one other Little or Medium-Sized or even Bigger Bang to compare it with, and to differentiate it from." (38) 
Luke and the Fire of Life is a somewhat sequel to Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which follows Luka's older brother.  Although Luka can certainly be read as a solo text, I did wish I'd read Haroun first as I think it would have been enjoyable to re-encounter recurring places and characters.

Knowing almost nothing about Rushdie going in, I expected a much more austere work than I found.  Instead, Luka and the Fire of Life rang more like a kids' book with adult appeal (perhaps like a Pixar movie), which certainly isn't an insult.  I did find my mind occasionally straying, as the light tone, for me, also meant the book wasn't completely engrossing.  Reading it aloud or hearing it in an audiobook version might have helped.

***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.


  1. I have this one in my tbr pile downstairs, and I've been a tad hesitant to try it, because of finding Rushdie a tad intimidating. But from what you say my doubts are misplaced, so I shall crack it open!

  2. I'm not sure how I had that same impression of Rushdie... that he would be dense and difficult to read, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised. If you have access to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, I'd recommending reading that one first since it introduces characters in this book (and I've also heard it's even better!).