“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. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue.”
Thus begins the narrative of Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a marvelously fantastic tale of far-away imaginary lands, full of allusions and sub-texts. At one level, it an adventure novel about Rashid, the story-teller and his son Haroun and how they find themselves in the city of Gup, where it is always light and from where originates to Ocean of Notions or all the stories we hear, at a time when the Ocean has been poisoned by their dark and evil neighbours, the Chup-wallas who live in the dark land of Chup. They have also kidnapped the princess Baatcheat, and so Haroun and Rashid find themselves embroiled in a rescue mission and battle to save both, Princess Baatcheat and the Ocean of Notions…
At another level, the novel can be read as a very witty retort to the forces of censorship that work to silence voices of dissent such as Rushdie’s. After he wrote The Satanic Verses (1988), the Ayatollah had placed a fatwah upon him, forcing him to adopt a life of seclusion and hiding. Rushdie broke out of the resultant writer’s block in 1990 with Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a children's book written as a means of explaining his situation to his son, largely through the use of allegory.
The numerous incidents in the story carry significant meanings depending on how you look at it – the page Blabbermouth, a girl in a man’s world is so obviously a comment on the increasing presence of women in previously male domain of work (remember we are talking about the late 80s and early 90s when this was still an emerging occurrence). The descriptions of the K country and the Dull Lake, seem to scream and drag our attention to Kashmir and its problems and the deterioration of the once beautiful Dal Lake.
Replete with such allusions and allegories, the book is a sheer delight to read – fantastic, cheeky, witty and brilliantly Rushdie, I’d so recommend it for everyone. If you know your ABCs and can read a novel, pick this one!
P.S I found interesting essays on the novel here, incase you feel like reading more about the novel! (ever the Literature student!) ;-)