I was surfing around the web today thinking about Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie and wondering how was I going to be able to tell you about this beautiful wonderful book and not give anything away? Whatever you do, don’t go to the Wikipedia article about it, it does give everything away. I did find a link in the references though that took me to a reading guide. The reading guide did not list any of its sources but it seems like it is reliable. I mean, Wikipedia uses it so it must be fine, right? (please laugh, at my lame joke 🙂 ).
Anyway, Haroun is the first book Rushdie wrote after Satanic Verses. He began it in the summer of 1989 and it was published in 1990. When I found out this bit of information everything clicked into place and Haroun became even more beautiful.
The plot, as basic as I can make it. Rashid Khalifa, also known as the Shah of Blah, is a renown storyteller in the country of Alifbay. He is married with a son. But one day Rashid’s wife runs off with the neighbor, Mr. Sengupta. Haroun, upset over his mother’s running away, has an angry outburst at his father, yelling at him what he had always heard Mr. Sengupta saying, “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” In Rashid’s grief he is no longer able to tell stories and of course, Haroun thinks it is his fault.
Haroun decides he has to help his father. He gets his chance when he catches Iff the Water Genie who comes to cancel Rashid’s subscription to the story stream. Haroun travels to the moon of Kahani, an unseen satellite of Earth, and where the sea of stories is located, to beg for his father’s subscription to be reinstated.
We meet all kinds of wonderful characters and in Haroun’s quest he ends up involved in a war between Gup, the good chatty people who take care of the Ocean of the Sea of Stories, and Chup, who are ruled by a tyrant who does not allow anyone to talk.
The book is about storytelling and the joy and pleasure it brings to be sure, but when I found out Rushdie started writing it only a few months after the fatwa was declared, the book becomes much bigger. It is about freedom to tell stories, to speak, to imagine. It is a book and an author fighting a battle against those who would have silence, those who don’t want to hear or acknowledge that there are stories of all kinds and each story holds its own nugget of truth.
Haroun is a brave book, light-hearted and full of laughter, it sparkles and shimmers with jokes and cultural and literary references. Even more wonderful, Rushdie wrote the book for his nine-year-old son, Zafar, who told him it was wrong he didn’t write books for children. While this is a book a child could read, it is also a book for grown-ups; an answer to the question, what’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?