reviewed by Zeke Teflon
There’s no other word for it, Salman Rushdie’s new novel is charming. That starts with the title, which is the equivalent of “A Thousand and One Nights.”
Two Years takes its premise from the perennial religious argument that the universe is controlled by the whims of god(s) rather than by immutable natural laws. Where does this lead? There are an almost infinite number of answers to that question, but the one Rushdie gives us is a world controlled by mischievous jinn (genies), some good, some bad.
The book’s two central characters are Dunia, a well intentioned female jinn who’s in love with a medieval liberal muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (whose family is known as the Rushdi), and a modern-day gardener, Geronimo Manezes, who’s a descendant of Rushd and Dunia. The secondary characters are mostly other jinn, good and evil, and other descendants of Dunia and Rushd, who like Geronimo, have latent supernatural powers.
The plot revolves around the attempts of the evil jinn to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth, and in the process inflict various miseries on humanity. These include the floating curse, which causes Geronimo and countless others to find themselves untethered from the Earth, and its counterpart, the crushing curse, which causes people to be crushed to death. The bulk of the book involves Dunia, Geronimo, and Dunia’s other awakened half-human, half-jinn ancestors battling the evil jinn inflicting these miseries on humanity during the thousand and one nights of “the strangeness.”
Along the way, there are numerous references to writers and artists, including Conrad, Bunuel, Magritte, Beckett, and many others. These references are great fun when you catch them, but irritating when you can’t think of whom they refer to; there’s also quite a bit of dry humor in the book.
The lightness of Two Years’ tone, however, contrasts with its serious philosophical examination of which is preferable, rationality or irrationality, reason or religion. If you’re familiar at all with Rushdie’s other works, it’s not hard to predict which side he comes down on. In his own words, the alternatives are supernatural incoherence or “a world ruled by reason, tolerance, magnanimity, knowledge, and restraint.”
Lest this sound too sappy, Rushdie concludes the book with a twist in the final paragraph, a twist that induces both a wry smile and a shudder.
* * *
Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel.