Review: Rushdie's Luka and the Fire of Life

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Salman Rushdie is the author of one of my all-time favorite books, Midnight's Children, so any time he has a new book come out I rush to read it.  (In this case my mom and I swapped books at Christmas- I eagerly traded her for Luka and the Fire of Life.)  One of the things I most admire about Rushdie is that he writes with gusto.  When it's good with Rushdie, it's great (The Enchantress of Florence- oh!  The Moor's Last Sigh- ah!  Shalimar the Clown- yes!).  But when it's bad with Rushdie... it's awful.  I tortured myself through The Ground Beneath Her Feet, assuring myself chapter after chapter that it would get better, it had to get better.  It didn't.  It got worse.  All the way until the bitter end.

I am enormously fond of Haroun and the Sea of Stories so I had very high expectations for its sequel, Luka and the Fire of Life.  My expectations were quickly dashed.  I did not hate this book so much that I threw it against the wall (that special designation has only been earned by Samuel Beckett and Emily Bronte, respectively).  But I can't say that I liked it enough to finish it- I have currently abandoned it half-way through and I will not be picking it up again (I've only ever done that with about six books).  Don't get me wrong- there are definitely some clever bits and I'm a huge fan of the Insultana of Ott, who pelts her enemies with insults, betel juice, and rotten tomatoes from her flying carpet.  

But Rushdie is trying to do something rather tragic- he's telling Luka and the Fire of Life like it's a video game.  Incomprehensibly, there's a "life counter" that runs down during each scene of the book as the main character, Luka, encounters difficulties.  It makes absolutely no sense to have someone dying and re-dying, earning points and getting new lives over the course of each chapter of a book.  If this was in a visual medium or a presented as a graphic novel it might work.  But this is literature, and writing visual video game features into a story created out of words on a page is distracting.  Perhaps if I was a ten-year-old boy I might be persuaded to pick up something that had no pictures and read it because it at least talked about familiar things I'd seen in video games.  But I suspect that if I were a ten-year-old boy I would much rather play an actual video game.  Besides... a book with a main character who's name is Nobodaddy... well, it just shouldn't be.