“Two years, Eight months and Twenty-Eight Nights” is the perfect mix of the macabre, savage humour, the linguistic pyrotechnics and sharp social observation which are the hallmarks of Salman Rushdie’s work. Narrated from the perspective of a distant future, the novel examines the events of the ‘war of the worlds,’ the moment at which the borders between Peristan (fairyland) and the earth become porous enough to allow thousands of marauding jinn to launch a bid for world domination.
But in fact the novel delves much further back in time, to the relationship between arch-Jinni Dunia and the philosopher Ibn Rushd, spawning a race of half-Jinn, half-human descendants with powers to envy an x-man. There’s baby storm, for example, who instils fear in the most hardened and corrupt with her ability to detect truth and lies, Jimmy Kapoor – graphic novelist and comic book style superhero, Teresa Saca, blessed with the ability to fire lightning bolts from her fingertips, and the ultimate, reluctant focus of Dunia’s later love, the ancient gardener Mr Geronimo, who wakes one morning to discover he is levitating.
If Rushdie is a master of intertextuality, then this is surely his finest hour. Stories spin off from one another, as fertile and prolific as Dunia herself, for Rushdie weaves in characters, themes and subject matter from sources as disparate as Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, Genesis, and 1,001 Nights. Because this if this book is about anything, it’s about the way we ground our identity in stories, and those stories can, and will take on a life of their own. Or, as Blue Yasmeen, eventual victim of the Jinn points out, ‘this is our tragedy…our fictions are killing us, but if we didn’t have those fictions, maybe that would kill us too.’
It’s a book which proves that Rushdie’s powers as a writer only increase with age. It’s a book which masks a very clear arc and narrative structure between a chaotic sprawl of competing fictions. It’s also a book which, as with all of Rushdie’s work, asks a lot of its reader – to examine who we are, and how we got where we are. Strongly recommended.