Red Carpet Reader
Is that Salman Rushdie or Lady Gaga? Demand forces Inprint to move celebrityauthor to bigger venue
In what Inprint is touting as the literary event of the year, novelist Salman Rushdie takes the Jones Hall stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday night. The event was originally set for the smaller Cullen Theater at the Wortham Center, but tickets sold out within 24 hours and Inprint decided to move the reading to Jones.
Less than 400 tickets remain for the bigger venue, but Inprint will consider opening balcony seating if the demand makes it necessary.
If this sounds like a description of Gaga or Beyonce coming to town, perhaps that’s because Rushdie, or more accurately Sir Salman Rushdie — he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2007 — has reached a rock star level of fame in not just the literary world, but the whole world. For better for for worse.
On Nov, 16, he “dropped” his latest novel, Luka and Fire of Lifeand is now on tour promoting it.
When viewing Rushdie’s work it would be easy to let that level of fame, though some might describe it as infamy, distract from his writings. His continuing life story is almost as mesmerizing as his novels. Born in India, educated in England, his second novel Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize for fiction and later the best of the Bookers.
Then he wrote The Satanic Verses and a novelist mostly known by lovers of great literature became a name recognized by everyone and reviled by many.
Then there is Rushdie’s personal life. He hangs out with real rock stars like Bono. He’s one of the few literary authors whose love life is the stuff of international gossip columns. It’s rather surprising no producer has yet pitched the Real Ex-Wives and Ex-Girlfriends of Salman Rushdie as a joint Bravo/PBS venture.
His life story even contains a short Houston chapter. The last time he came to town to read for the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series was Sept. 10, 2001. Three hundred people protested outside the Alley, but inside the sold-out theater, the audience loved him. The evening might have been remembered only as a great, if disconcerting, success but the next day was 9/11/01.
With air travel suspended, Rushdie was grounded in Houston for three days. For security reasons, Inprint arranged for him to stay at the poet and then UH professor, Edward Hirsch’s home, who was out-of-town. Sir Salman might not consider his time in Houston to be the best of times.
If readers of contemporary fiction are asked which is more exciting and dramatic their favorite authors’ real lives or the imagined ones they create in their work, the answer is usually obvious. However, in Salman Rushdie’s case the answer might not be so clear. That is until a reader enters his imagined worlds.
His acclaimed Midnight’s Children begins with the words: “I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time. No that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on Aug. 15th, 1947.” This mixing of the fairy tale, the “once upon a time,” and the solidity of a specific here and now is a staple of Rushdie’s work, where the world of dreams and magic is also the same, seemingly normal, world outside our windows.
His new book, Luka and the Fire of Life, is a companion to his 1990 novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Both contain adolescent heroes and are aimed at both adult and young adult readers. They have similar trappings, including some of the same characters and a similar plot, a son’s adventure into a magical realm to save his storyteller father. The father in both novels is Rashid Khalifa, the Shah of Bhah, whose storytelling ability must be saved by heroic Haroun in the first novel and whose life must be saved by young Luka in the second.
Luka and the Fire of Life is comic and a delight, a tale of Luka’s literal magic carpet roller coaster ride into the world of magic. Armed with only his video gaming skills and left-handedness, he must steal a bit of the fire of life to feed to his dying father.
An easy, yet rich, read for adults, it is, however, missing some of the lightness that made Haroun fun for younger readers. At times, Luka is positively dense, with whole paragraphs devoted to listing and describing practically every god, monster, and hero from world mythology. Perhaps there’s another novel out there that includes Valkyries, the Egyptian sun god Ra, Prometheus, the Native American trickster, Coyote, the Babylonian goddess Ishtar and the Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal, while also referencing Doctor Who, The Terminator and Back to the Future.
If another such novel exists, I doubt it’s aimed at young adults though, even those that can devour an 800-page Harry Potter novel.
One theme in both books is the importance of the storyteller because he accesses the ocean of stories and pours them into this world. The Shah of Bhah must be rescued by his hero sons, and by saving him they also save the magic of story itself.
The antagonists are those who would silence stories and deny dreams. In these books, words are powerful in their ability to create, but stories are also messy and difficult to manage.
The villains desire order and attempt to snuff out what makes life vivid and meaningful, the tales we tell of it. The young hero fights to keep those stories alive. Perhaps this is a message of both the life and work of Salman Rushdie.