Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie (Book Review)
I read Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses,’ a little while ago, and though it was hard to follow, that was largely offset by the beautiful sweeping grandeur of the prose. And so I approached his latest book, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, with a degree of expectancy and excitement.
The story starts with a brief description of the jinn, who are amorphous creatures made of smokeless fire. They can enter human bodies and make changes come about on Earth, mostly of a tyrannical nature, using their magical powers, but they can only enter our world when the upper world they inhabit, said to be called ‘The Fairyland,’ opens up a slit into ours with the thickness of a veil, which the jinn can slip through as they are of only a veil’s width. The period of time that the jinn can come through to our world, is a period referred to as the Strangeness, for that is the period of time through which a war is raging between the darkness and the light with the people on Earth, and the many jinn involved in the story.
The first jinn we are introduced to, and the most important for the story that follows, is Dunia. She falls in love with a human mute philosopher named, Ibn Rushd, who lives in the twelfth century. The jinn don’t normally fall in love at all, never mind with a human, but she does fall in love with this man, perhaps for his intellect, but perhaps not. It seems her love is without logic, but it exists nonetheless. And one thing we find the jinn spend a lot of time doing is having sex. We find that they are ravenous creatures that have sex as a pastime, and indeed do so to literally pass the time. So Dunia has the philosopher’s children, and from this point on the descendants of those children become the characters of the book, which weave through time. Having no ear lobes can identify each one of the descendants of Dunia and Ibn, possessing special abilities that only the jinn and their descendants can have.
The first part of this book, the part involving Dunia and the philosopher, was the most enjoyable for me. Later in the book there were so many characters coming through, that it becomes more complicated. Also at the start I felt there was more emphasis and focus on making the characters real, and hence giving the reader the opportunity to empathise with them, but that starts to wain as me move through the story. Eventually the characters drop in and out, and the newly introduced ones become as thin as the jinn themselves, for they are said to disappear when looked at from the side, and I fear Rushdie, in his concentration on the story as a complex work of magical and mythical fantasy, has left some of his story’s characters as thin as the paper they were written on.
I feel that Rushdie was perhaps too ambitious with this story, too clever for his own, and his reader’s good, or perhaps I’m just not smart enough to take it all in. All I can say is that having been engaged in the book at the start, and having been initially enthralled and taken back by the style and satisfying complexities within the page, I was then thrown out on my ear in the cold and complex world of the jinn, wherein I felt no empathy for the characters and certainly felt no motivation to keep reading. As I said, this may be down to individual taste, and you may enjoy this book and all it has to offer, but for me, past the halfway point, it wasn’t an enjoyable read. One recommendation I would make is that if you are going to read this, then make sure you read it quickly and daily, for if you don’t you will find it very hard to get back into the story.