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“You’ve reached the age at which people in this family cross the border into the magical world. It’s your turn for an adventure—yes, it’s finally here!” So says Haroun to his younger brother, twelve-year-old Luka. The adventure begins one beautiful starry night in the land of Alifbay, when Luka’s father, Rashid, falls suddenly into a sleep so deep that nothing and no one can rouse him. To save him from slipping away entirely, Luka embarks on a journey through the world of magic with his loyal companions, Bear, the dog, and Dog, the bear. Together they encounter a slew of fantastical creatures, strange allies, and challenging obstacles along the way—all in the hope of stealing the Fire of Life, a seemingly impossible and exceedingly treacherous task.
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Salman Rushdie on Luka and the Fire of Life
There’s a line in Paul Simon’s song St. Judy’s Comet, a sort of lullaby, about his reason for writing it. "If I can’t sing my boy to sleep," he sings, "it makes your famous daddy look so dumb." More than twenty years ago, when my older son Zafar said to me that I should write a book he could read, I thought about that line. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, written in 1989-90, a dark time for me, was the result. I tried to fill it with light and even to give it a happy ending. Happy endings were things I had become very interested in at the time.
When my younger son Milan read Haroun he immediately began to insist that he, too, merited a book. Luka and the Fire of Life is born of that insistence. It is not exactly a sequel to the earlier book, but it is a companion. The same family is at the heart of both books, and in both books a son must rescue a father. Beyond those similarities, however, the two books inhabit very different imaginative milieux.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories was born at a time of crisis in its author’s life and the fictional Haroun’s quest to rescue his father’s lost storytelling skills in a world in which stories themselves are being poisoned was a fable that responded to that crisis.
Luka and the Fire of Life is a response to a different, but equally great, danger: that an older father may not live to see his son grow up. In the earlier book, it was storytelling that was being threatened; in the new one, it is the storyteller who is at risk. Once again, the book grows out of the reality of my own life, and my relationship with a very particular child. Luka is my son Milan’s middle name, just as Haroun is Zafar’s.
As well as the central theme of life and death, Luka explores in, I hope, suitably fabulous and antic fashion, things I have thought about all my life: the relationships between the world of imagination and the "real" world, between authoritarianism and liberty, between what is true and what is phony, and between ourselves and the gods that we create. Younger readers do not need to dwell on these matters. Older readers may, however, find them satisfying.
It has been my aim, in Luka as in Haroun, to write a story that demolishes the boundary between "adult" and "children’s" literature. One way I have thought about Luka and Haroun is that each of them is a message in a bottle. A child may read these books and, I hope, derive from them the pleasures and satisfactions that children seek from books. The same child may read them again when he or she is grown, and see a different book, with adult satisfactions instead of (or as well as) the earlier ones.
I don’t want to end without thanking the boys for whom these books were written and who helped me in their creation with a number of invaluable editorial suggestions. Luka and the Fire of Life has been the most enjoyable writing experience I’ve had since I wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I hope it may prove as enjoyable to read as it was to write.
(Photo © Alberto Conti)About the Author:
Salman Rushdie is the author of ten previous novels—Grimus, Midnight’s Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and, recently, the Booker of all Bookers), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown, and The Enchantress of Florence—and one collection of short stories, East, West. He has also published three works of nonfiction—The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991, and Step Across This Line—and co-edited two anthologies, Mirrorwork and Best American Short Stories 2008. He is a former president of American PEN.
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