Thoughts: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Margaret Atwood.  A.S. Byatt.  Jonathan Franzen.  Salman Rushdie.

I don’t know about you, but all those names give me the heebee jeebies.  They strike fear in this little readerly heart!  I have never finished an Atwood.  I’ve read one (and adored, stupid me, I don’t know what my problem is with her.  I mean Possession.  One of my all-time favorite books) one A.S. Byatt and I’ve read one Salman Rushdie.   (I just don’t like Franzen’s attitude.)

Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

I have read it three times now in fact, and I loved it more each time.   If you have ever been tempted to try a Rushdie and hadn’t for fear of it being over your head, rest assured dear reader – this is your Rushdie.  You can read Haroun and the Sea of Stories and I’d bet you would love it too.  Trust me.  When have I ever steered you wrong?

Don’t answer that.

So, what is Haroun and the Sea of Stories about?

First, some back story.  I suppose you know all about the price on Rushdie’s head?  For his book The Satanic Verses?  Well, he wrote this right after all of that.  AND he wrote it for his son.  SO, I hope you can imagine the potential awesomeness that could come from such a combination.  Brilliant father writes book for his son after publishing another book that so angered an entire ethnicity that they put a million dollar price on his head.  Do you see where I am going?  Okay, now, the book is about this:

Haroun concerns a supremely talented storyteller named Rashid whose wife is lured away by the same saturnine neighbor who poisons Rashid’s son Haroun’s thoughts. “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” Haroun demands, parroting the neighbor and thus unintentionally paralyzing Rashid’s imagination. The clocks freeze: time literally stops when the ability to narrate its passing is lost. Repentant, Haroun quests through a fantastic realm in order to restore his father’s gift for storytelling. Saturated with the hyperreal color of such classic fantasies as the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland , Rushdie’s fabulous landscape operates by P2C2Es (Processes Too Complicated To Explain), features a court where all the attendant Pages are numbered, and unfurls a riotous display of verbal pranks (one defiant character chants “You can chop suey, but / You can’t chop me!”; elsewhere, from another character: “ `Gogogol,’ he gurgled. “ `Kafkafka,’ he coughed”). But although the pyrotechnics here are entertaining in and of themselves, the irresistible force of the novel rests in Rushdie’s wholehearted embrace of the fable–its form as well as its significance. It’s almost as if Rushdie has invented a new form, the meta-fable. Rather than retreating under the famous death threats, Rushdie reiterates the importance of literature, stressing not just the good of stories “that aren’t even true” but persuading us that these stories convey the truth. As Haroun realizes, “He knew what he knew: that the real world was full of magic, so magical worlds could easily be real.”

Yes, I am totally cheating, but dude, do you have any idea how hard that would be to summarize? It’s better to let Barnes and Noble tell you about it  because honestly, all I can think to say is just read it, okay?   That, and give you sample quotes from the book to show you just how awesome it is.

“There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name.”

That’s the opening line.  It’s one of the best opening lines ever in my opinion.  I mean, I immediately want to know why it’s so sad and if they ever get happy!

“…the Water Genie told Haroun about the Ocean of the Streams of Story, and even though he was full of a sense of hopelessness and failure the magic of the Ocean began to have an effect on Haroun. He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity: and [the Water Genie] explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each colored strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories…”

I love rereading. It’s like visiting with old, dear friends:

…so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.”And if you are very, very careful, or very, very highly skilled, you can dip a cup into the Ocean,” Iff told Haroun, “like so,” and here he produced a little golden cup from another of his waistcoat pockets, “and you can fill it with water from a single, pure Stream of Story, like so,” as he did precisely that…

It’s not dead, but alive.  An ocean of stories, creating more stories and more and more and more.  And one can drink it.  *sigh*

I hope I left you needing to know what happens to Haroun and his storyteller father and the Oceans of the Streams of Story.   This book is a story lovers dream and now I just can’t wait to read the Luka and the Fire of Life, set in the same universe and written for Rushdie’s other son.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Purchase from Barnes & Noble.

Requisite butt covering – I am an B&N Associate.  I will make a pittance from them if you buy a book from one of my links, which may someday go to hosting, giveaways or buying myself a snack.  In about 50 years.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

  1. "If you have ever been tempted to try a Rushdie and hadn’t for fear of it being over your head, rest assured dear reader."

    I've been avoiding Rushdie for YEARS because I was afraid I'd hate him. (Or, rather, because I *knew* I'd hate him.) You've convinced me otherwise. And, no, you've never steered me wrong!

  2. I bought a Rushdie a couple of years ago, but still haven't gotten around to reading it. Sounds like I need to get to that one…so I can get to this one.

  3. I have Midnight's Children on my shelf but haven't even attempted to crack cover. Never read an Atwood b/c I don't like futuristic novels. I tried Possession, didn't like it, then years later I decided I wanted to try it again but I can't find it. Read The Corrections, avoiding Freedom. So maybe since I have a Rushdie, I should give it a try *scared*

  4. "It’s not dead, but alive. An ocean of stories, creating more stories and more and more and more. And one can drink it. *sigh*"…Oh Heather, you make me want to abandon ALL responsibilities, lock myself in a room, and just imbibe…

  5. There are some writers who I intimidate me that's for sure. Rushdie did with the Satanic Verses but then I read another of his books and really enjoyed it. Haven't tried any of his newer books though. And, you've never finished an Atwood? Ok, you gotta try I promise you'll enjoy the experience! 🙂

  6. This book is brilliant! I truly love this book. I'm not a fan of Midnight's Children–it is a very tough read. Satanic Verses was just as difficult, but a little more likeable. Haroun is definitely re-readable, over, and over, and over again.

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