Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie

haroun-and-the-sea-of-stories-by-salman-rushdie coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin
Published: 1990
Reviewer Rating: five stars
Book Review by James Michael White

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Any novel that poses the question, “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” has just cobbled together a pretty big shoe to fill, and Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories poses that question early and answers it in a variety of interesting ways both obvious and, more importantly perhaps, not obvious, the latter having to do with something we don’t notice unless it’s missing: Stories are fun, or at least they should be, and this cool whirly-gig of a fantasy is.

Titular Haroun is a boy whose father, Rashid, is a renowned storyteller whom all the local politicos want telling stories for their side, thus assuring their election by his happy audience. In fact, Snooty Buttoo from the Valley of K enlists his aid for just such purpose, but prior to Rashid and Haroun’s arrival, wife and mother to each splits with neighbor, Mr. Sengupta, who posed the chillingly important question.

As a result of her departure, Rashid finds himself bereft of all storytelling powers and Haroun finds himself unable to concentrate on anything beyond eleven minutes, eleven being the hour of said wife and mother’s departure.

Thus anticipating a bad time of it during the next day’s political rally, Rashid and Haroun retire glumly to separate rooms on houseboat floating upon the lake of K, but a switcheroo of beds and rooms lead Haroun to discover the source of pop’s gift of gab, and that it can be recovered, and that he’ll have to go to the moon — Earth’s second moon, that is — to do it.

The bulk of the story then takes place on Kahani, the aforementioned and very watery moon, where Haoroun hopes to meet the Walrus to petition for restoration of his father’s gift of gab. While there, he also meets the Eggheads (creators of many things known as P2C2Es, or, “Processes Too Complicated To Explain”), a water Genie named Iff, a mechanical mind-reading Hoopoe bird, a royal page named Blabbermouth, and eventually his own father, Rashid.

Together they all become embroiled in a plot to save the precious story waters of the moon which are being poisoned by the Cultmaster Khattam-Shud, a being who has split his shadow from his self and who rules the shadow-side of Kahani and who bears a striking resemblance to someone back home in the real world.

There are other obvious analogues between Haroun’s waking world and its various personages and those on Kahani. The analogues stretch most obviously to the political struggle of which Rashid is a part in the real world and the conflict taking shape on Kahani. Their interplay and resolution have much to say, after all, about the importance of stories that aren’t even true, and demonstrate the oft-talked about but perhaps too-seldom explored matter of fiction’s ability to not merely “mirror” reality, but to expose truth and shape opinion. Or, to paraphrase Stephen King, although life doesn’t support art, art certainly informs and thereby supports life, as ultimately made clear at the end of the novel.

This is not to say that Haroun and the Sea of Stories is strictly a parable. It isn’t. But it does pose an important question and does a bang-up job of keeping us entertained, chuckling and nibbling our nails while artfully making its point, employing language that is as fluid and marvelous as Kahani’s multicolored sea.

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