The title of Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights is a longer, more mysterious, and arguably more convoluted way of saying 1,001 nights (think The Arabian Nights). The deliberate choice to go with such a lengthy title gives you a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get from this story. It’s quite a tale. Although only 286 pages, it spans many centuries, continents, generations, and realms.
The story is about Dunia, a jinnia (a powerful genie like being from Arabic mythology) who crosses over into the world of mortals, falls in love with a philosopher, and has many many children with him. Many centuries later there’s a storm in modern day New York City. There’s upheaval everywhere meanwhile the unknowing descendants of Dunia start discovering their supernatural abilities, and strange occurrences abound. There’s a war between light and dark and a blurring of the lines between the worlds of mortals and the jinn.
This is my first Salman Rushdie book, and I quickly fell in love with his writing style, elaborate and folkloric. Rushdie uses a lot of complex sentences. Therefore, the writing structure reflects the breadth of the story. It encompasses lives, eras, and worlds. The writing style really transported me into the world of the story and helped to keep me there for a while.
However, this style is definitely not for everyone, and even I found myself eventually disliking it about 60% of the way in, as I began to feel that there were a lot of unnecessary details, and that the major events and character connections in the story needed to fall into place sooner.
There were lots of clever moments, and Rushdie drew many parallels to our present global political climate. Rushdie also does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of New York, and the distinct general attitudes of New Yorkers. As a former New Yorker I can attest to the fact that residents of the city are not easily impressed or frightened. It takes a lot of throw the city and its people off balance.
There’s one moment where the clothing of all of the men standing in Times Square suddenly disappears and all their secrets are revealed via the contents of their now non existent pockets. Rushdie lists the contents of their pockets with great effect, “cellphones, pens, keys, credit cards, currency, condoms, sexual insecurities, inflatable egos, women’s underwear, guns, knives, the phone numbers of unhappily married women, hip flasks, cologne, photographs of angry daughters, photographs of sullen teenage boys, breath-freshening strips…lies” (107). He has a knack for creating these lists that paint a vivid picture by including things that are minute and grand.
This wasn’t an easy or quick read by any means, in fact there were moments where it was so tedious that I contemplated abandoning it. Despite my annoyance I was in awe of Rushdie’s ability to handle mythology, magical realism, history, current events, and an all encompassing plot. So I’ll definitely be reading more of his work in the future.
I always enjoy mythology that portrays godlike creatures as human in many ways (mainly their pettiness). The world of the jinn is no different. I found Dunia fascinating and liked that her femininity and emotions weren’t at odds with her power. It was also interesting to read about this particular mythology that we aren’t often exposed to in Western literature.
I’ll leave you with this gorgeous passage that describes the storm in New York and the story’s entrance into modern times.
“Their childhoods slipped into the water and were lost, the piers built of memories on which they once ate candy and pizza, the boardwalks of desire under which they hid from the summer sun and kissed their first lips. The roofs of houses flew through the night sky like disoriented bats, and the attics where they stored their past stood exposed to the elements until it seemed that everything they once were had been devoured by the predatory sky. Their secrets drowned in flooded basements and they could no longer remember them. Their power failed them. Darkness fell” (19).
Have you ready anything by Salman Rushdie? Is this a good introduction to his work? What should I read next?