I don’t know a whole lot about The Arabian Nights (or 1001 Nights), but I do know the general premise, thanks to popular culture—Scheherazade spins a web for 1001 nights to save her life from the whims of a capricious ruler and so captivates him with her storytelling that he allows her to live at the very end. The stories are populated with thieves, the poor, the rich, rulers, and djinn.
It is this fabric against which Salman Rushdie sets his Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. Dunia, the Lightning Queen of Peristan (Fairyland) has children descended from her love affair with Averroes, and she determines to return to earth to protect these children, who all have unusual signs that betray their heritage. There’s a gardener, a comic book writer, and a Storm Baby, among others. And all signs point to a conflict that will change the earth’s landscape forever.
If you’ve never read Rushdie before, this is not the best place to start. His writing is rich and layered but so very, very dense. I mean, you have to rea-read him often in order to make sense of what you’ve just read. There’s often symbols and myths that a casual reader will miss entirely. And even a veteran reader will miss out the first time. I really liked The Satanic Verses, but that remains one of the most difficult novels I’ve ever read. And Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is not for the faint of heart. The stories are interesting and their eventual connection is rewarding, but it is a looong and slooooow read. And when one is trying to reach a Quadruple Cannonball, slow progress is not your friend. I am glad I read this book, but I do predict a re-read will have to happen in the future. I’m pretty sure I missed out on a lot of stuff that will make the book more rewarding in the end.