pundit in a forthcoming movie by the Wachowskis,” he says. “I wasn’t free to accept any of these offers, but I’d be happy to receive more.” On Dec. 3, as part of the 30th anniversary year of Imprint’s Margarett Root Brown Reading Series, Rushdie will read from his newest novel, Luka and the Fire of Life, written as a birthday present for his 13-year-old son Milan. The new book is a companion to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, written for his older son Zafar in 1989. Inprint, the city’s most prominent literary arts organization, brings the world’s top authors to Houston. So far this year, Amy Tan and Carlos Fuentes have brought their work to life, while Peter Carey, Major Jackson, Alicia Ostriker, Chitra Divakaruni, Gish Jen and Kay Ryan complete the 2011 season. Tickets for Rushdie’s reading sold out so quickly, Inprint switched the venue to Jones Hall, where reading transforms from a private to a collective experience. “Some writers do this well, others should never do it,” Rushdie says. “I haven’t given many readings, yet the book is still so new, but I have done one or two, and they were lots of fun. I like reading aloud.” Haroun and the Sea of Stories concludes with a miraculous wrap-up that feels almost too perfect. Surely, something else will go wrong for Rashid, the storyteller and father to Haroun and Luka. There’s a generative quality present, following in the tradition of J. M. Barrie, Kipling, and Lewis Carroll. One can just imagine a youngster nudging on the sleeve of a parent, asking, “Read me another.” At the time Rushdie did not imagine a second book. “The moment I had another son, I started thinking about an adventure for him,” he says. “I suspected that the father’s general uselessness might again be a problem.” In Luka and the Fire of Life, the trouble-prone Rashid falls into a sleep so deep nothing can wake him. Rashid’s younger son Luka, along with his oddly named companions, Bear the dog and Dog the bear, face fierce obstacles to save the storyteller and restore safety to Rushdie’s mythical land of Alifbay. The author turned to video games for a thematic structure, where layers upon layers of harrowing adventures keep the anxiety flowing. “This is exactly what happens in the ancient hero and quest myths. No sooner has the hero Beowulf slain the monster Grendel than he has to face an even larger and scarier monster, Grendel’s mother,” Rushdie says. “So here, I thought, was a way of using very contemporary language and imagery in the service of an ancient form, the myth of the quest for fire.” Rushdie invents a ghost father doppelganger known as “Nobodaddy,” who starts as a shadow and grows increasing present as Luka’s own father fades. “It’s as Nobodaddy explains to Luka. We do not die generic deaths, we each die specific deaths. I thought it would be powerful to have a
death that exactly mirrored the living being and filled up with his ebbing life,” he says. “I worried that this might be too disturbing for younger readers, but Nobodaddy turned out to be my son Milan’s favorite character, so I guess kids today are darker than we think.” Haroun and the Sea of Stories proved the author as a master of humor, whimsical language and the ability to tell a tale that exists for children and adults simultaneously. “The movies do this all the time, from Star Wars to Avatar, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to Ratatouille,” says Rushdie. “When we watch James Bond or Indiana Jones or a Pixar movie or Despicable Me, we don’t bother to ask what age the audience is supposed to be. I have always believed this can be done in literature too. Peter Pan and the Alice books are old examples, and, nowadays, some of the most interesting work is being placed on this blurred border between the younger reader and the adult, the work, for example, of Philip Pullman, Mark Haddon and yes, even J.K. Rowling.” Following a style similar to the first book, Luka and the Fire of Life contains a virtual feast for the tongue, with language as intoxicating as it is fantastical. Wordplay, fanciful puns, clever syntax run amok through the pages. A school bully named “Ratshit,” the tip of South America mistaken for Hawaii, a storyteller who also goes by the “Shah of Blah,” are all proof that Rushdie is one funny guy. “This is just the stuff that pours out of my twisted mind, I’m sorry to say,” quips the author. Rushdie last spoke as part of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series on a fateful September 10, 2001 while on a book tour for his novel Fury. A jam-packed crowd showed up along with 300 peaceful protesters. Rushdie, like everyone else, found himself stranded and made time to explore some of Houston’s cultural institutions. “On that strangest and saddest of days, both the Menil Collection and the Rothko Chapel were comforting places to be,” remembers Rushdie. There’s no doubt Rushdie’s life reveals an extraordinary drama as a literary giant. Yet the power of story and preserving the freedom to tell them remains central. There may have been a period when people thought of him more as a political figure. The author gives us the long view. “There was a time before that time when people thought of me as a literary figure, and I think for readers of books that never changed. It’s good to be back full-time in the world of books.” In much of his work, Rushdie speaks to survival of the symbolic imagination. “The world of the imagination nourishes and sustains us, but it’s a good idea to remain aware of its imaginative status, though things do cross over the boundary. Before you invent a wheel, you must imagine a wheel,” he says. “Before you can have the Internet, you must envisage the hyperlink. And to save a dying father, you can, if you are very clever, skip across into that magical world and steal and bring back the fire of life itself.”
The author turned to video games for a thematic structure, where layers upon layers of harrowing adventures keep the anxiety flowing.