I recently got the opportunity to see Rushdie speak live, which is amazing and awesome, especially when you consider how many years he had to hide from the world. He was, as you might expect, a lovely speaker. He was clever, thoughtful and funny.
This book, not one of his more famous (the 1001 books to read before you die list suggests “Midnight’s Children,” “Shame,” and “The Satanic Verses”) is, like all of his work, dense but playful.
As everyone in the world who reads this book instantly sees, it’s a variation of the Orpheus myth, but with the typical Rushdie flair.
In this book, the action centers on a beautiful and charismatic woman, Vina. There are two men who love her, Ormus (read Orpheus) and Umeed, familiarly known as Rai. It tracks the childhood of all three of them, with their assorted family dramas, and the transitions that bring them out of India, into England and then later to America, and make Ormus and Vina the center of the rising world of rock and roll.
There are scenes in this book that stay with you. Rai in the barn with the dead photographer that preceded him on an undercover sting for a news story. Vina’s childhood experiences, almost all of them.
Rushdie has a firm grasp on what provokes a visceral response in his readers. All his books stay with you, but first time readers should realize that his style is not straightforward. Expect to take a few chapters to get used to it and then go back and re-read from the beginning.
But Rushdie is always worth reading. He says deep, meaningful things about some of the biggest questions of our time, from the role of religious leaders to the plight of immigrants.