The Little Prince and Alice in Wonderland are sometimes considered “Children’s Literature,” but both stories speak to the human imagination so directly that they free themselves from the shackles of young age. In his latest novel, Luka and the Fire of Life, Salman Rushdie seeks to write a transcendently ageless, imaginative story about Luka, a boy who was born to turn back time.
Luka is an unusual child. Like his brother Haroun from Haroun and the Sea of Stories, he is a child born with special powers. When he curses a circus ringmaster, the animals successfully rebel against their cruel master and Luka finds himself with two new companions: Bear, a dog, and Dog, a bear. It seems that Luka, like his brother before him, is bound for adventure (Luka and the Fire of Life should be considered a companion rather than a sequel).
Disaster strikes quickly, if not drastically. Luka’s father has fallen asleep. A sleep so big that he requires an I.V. feed to survive. Sadly, it looks like Luka’s father is about to die.
Luka enters the world of magic with his two companions Bear and Dog. Their guide is “Nobodaddy,” a being that is both nobody and Luka’s daddy. Nobodaddy has come to take Luka’s father into nothingness, but he is still willing to watch Luka as he attempts to find and steal the Fire of Life. Nobodaddy is just the first of many unusual companions that join Luka’s quest.
The Fire of Life is hidden deep within the magic realm, and it is protected by beasts and even gods. Will Luka save his father or will he end up as Coyote warns — bound to a rock, food for the vultures? He encounters a varied cast of characters that he must outwit in order to save his father, perhaps the most memorable being the King of Riddles and the Rats of the Respect-o-rat. Part of the fun of reading stories like these is watching the hero encounter such weird personalities, and Rushdie does his best to provide an engaging cast of memorable foes.
Rushdie has created an often-surreal atmosphere in Luka and the Fire of Life, but his word play is the most memorable part of the novel. When Luka declares himself insulted, the Border Rat replies:
That you say you are offended, insults me mortally. And if you insult one Rat mortally, you insult all Rats gravely. And a grave offense to all Rats is a funeral crime…
Fortunately, Luka’s father is a writer, so he is able to stay afloat in this sea of words. In fact, Luka is lost in the magical dream world of his dying father, so he is usually able to quite easily, rather than cleverly, solve the problems he faces.
Like Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, Rushdie is ever allusive and humorous. Rushdie is one of the most acclaimed writers of our time, and readers that are able to tune in to the magic realism that Rushdie has created here are likely to enjoy Luka and the Fire of Life.