|Ground Beneath Her Feet
||[Aug. 7th, 2006|08:37 pm]
Discussion of the works of Salman Rushdie
I'm reading The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Has anyone read that?
Anyway, I just have a few observations about Rushdie's writing style and other things. I hope it's cool to air these here. Promise I won't spoil the book for anyone, but just in case anyone doesn't want to read about my thoughts on this book, I'm putting them under a cut. :-)
I am only about 90 pages into this 600 page book, but it made me want to put finger on the keyboard already.
First things that occur to me about this book is the strangeness of the premise. The famous international pop singer, Vina Apsara, is swallowed by the earth during an earthquake. The ground beneath her feet gives way. It's a very unlikely event to ever happen--even less likely, I'd imagine, than being struck by lightening. But the absurdity of this premise--which is adduced by a retrospective/introspective Umeed Merchant, a photographer and best friend of Vina--is mitigated somewhat by the parallels Rushdie draws to ancient Greek and Indian myths. Therefore, he signals two things: 1) that his narrative deviates from the commonly held assumptions of the real world and delves into the absurd world of archetypes,in search of, perhaps, a different kind of truth and 2) the narrative will attempt to interpret the modern pop culture with reference to ancient myths.
Why do I think this premise is strange? To set it against another book would best illustrate why I think of it as strange. Two other books by another contemporary writer, Phillip Roth, which I read recently are The Human Stain and The Plot Against America. When I think of those books, I am struck by how plausible their starting points are. The first one deals with a professor who gets fired after unwittingly uttering a racist word, and the second deals with a hypothetical scenario in which America turns into a fascist state after the election of President Charles Lindbergh. These books are written in the realistic tradition. Compared to them, TGBHF takes a very askew look at modern reality. It's funny at times because of this slanted point of view. It's implausible too, but it's in search of a different kind of truth, probably--one that may not be gotten within the realistic tradition.
The humor sets a counterpoint to the tragedy. Rushdie uses clever word games, intercultural conflct and dialogue to bring humor to basically tragic situations. Vina's disappearance, the accident that afflicts Sir Darius Xerxes Cama's son, Virus, whose name is funny as heck when you hear it the first time with that of his brother--Cyrus and Virus. IS this humor satirical or consoliatory? In other words, does it sting or does it deflect? My first impression is that it deflects tensions, since it's so harmless.
Later on, I want to discuss the paradoxical nature of this book's themes, and the questions it asks us: do we live for the glory of history or the promise of the future, for art or for business, ancient glories or modern architecture? Silence or music? What is the best attitude to take if we want to survive tumultuousness?
Yes, I know--another point of interest is the Muslim life portrayed in the book. It's a commonplace of modern literature to portray the twisted, uncertain soul of modern man, which has been in tumult at every nation and nationality, but there is a lot of interest these days about how cosmopolitan Indians of Muslim descent like Rushdie dealt with and are dealing with the modern transformations. How does superstition and history forestall the Muslim Indians' embrace of modernity? Why did some Indians identify with the colonial powers and how did they react to its disappearance?
I'd appreciate all your input. Please contribute with any comment that jumps to your mind about Rushdie or this book. Perhaps we can turn this into a book club kind of deal. :-)