Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights: Magical realism with folktale feel

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTwo Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights, by Salman RushdieTwo Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

From the moment I started listening to Salman Rushdie’s new book, Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights, I was enchanted. I wasn’t sure what to expect, not ever having read a Rushdie book before, but his leisurely, indirect storytelling style reminded me of a fairy or folk tale, like the 1001 Nights that Rushdie cleverly takes his title from.

Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights tells the story of the jinnia Dunia, her lovers, her countless human/jinn progeny, and their efforts in the war between the worlds of humanity and the jinn, who have entered our realm and begun sowing chaos, violence, and madness. Dunia, who has fallen in love with two human men and, in consequence, all of humanity, is on the side of Earth; her ancient rivals, the jinn Zummurrud and Zabardast, are leading the jinni force from Fairyland against humanity.

And the story is being told 1000 years in the future, by the descendants of the human victors, who piece it together from legend, remaining relics, and scraps of documents. This far future perspective blends an almost-omniscient narrator with the distance and skepticism of myth. Most of the action happens in summary rather than in scene, breaking the first rule of storytelling, “show, don’t tell,” but, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rushdie makes it work for him. As such, he’s able to step back and make profound observations about humanity, religion, knowledge, and storytelling, such as: “We are the creature that tells itself stories to understand what sort of creature it is.”

Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights is not all airy-fairy tone and proverbs about the meaning of life, though. Rushdie blends a sense of ridiculousness into his plot. Dunia’s first lover, the philosopher Ibn Rushd (who is a real-life figure and whose name echoes Rushdie’s), is locked in an eternal disagreement with his philosophical rival, the theologian Ghazali. Even after death, these characters continue their arguments about the nature of God and religion, although Rushdie is quick to remind us that he has no idea how they, being less than dust, are conducting their conversation.

It is Ibn Rushd who is the father of the Duniazad, all of Dunia’s human descendants. Centuries later, Dunia returns to earth to fall in love with one of her own great-great-great-great, etc. (Rushdie jokes about this, too) grandsons, the middle-aged gardener and widower, Mr. Geronimo. He is alerted to the altered state of the world — the Strangenesses, as Rushdie terms it — when he wakes up one morning unable to make contact with the ground. He floats above the floor and as the days go on, the distance between him and the rest of the world grows. Another of Dunia’s descendants, Jimmy Kapoor, is an unsuccessful comic-book artist who finds his creation sprung to life in a vision (it’s actually one of the jinn) and then discovers that he’s been endowed with superhuman powers.

The stories of Dunia’s loves, her descendants, and the battle between the jinn are all nested and intertwined together. One moment, you are with Mr. Geronimo as he surveys his ruined garden on the banks of the Hudson. The next moment, you are in the eternal past of Fairyland, finding out the history between Dunia and her lover/rivals, Zummerrud and Zabardast, who have come to destroy the world. There are hilarious scenes of American businessmen being possessed by jinn interspersed with ominous scenes of relentless human assassins pursing the deadly jinn. It’s all a big muddle, but it works.

The ending of the battle between the worlds wrapped up a bit quickly for me, but Rushdie takes his time explaining what its consequences were. For humans, it meant an entire and complete disenchantment with religion and the idea of God, the ushering in of a golden age of reason and development and civilization. People are happy, well-fed, tolerant, and fulfilled. But even this fantasy of a world without religion admits that faith offers something lovely, if intangible. Because, now, one thing is lacking:

“Fewer and fewer of us, in each successive generation, retained the ability to dream, until now we find ourselves in a time when dreams are things we would dream of, if we could only dream. We read of you in ancient books, O dreams, but the dream factories are closed. This is the price we pay for peace, prosperity, tolerance, understanding, wisdom, goodness, and truth: that the wildness in us, which sleep unleashed, has been tamed.”

I listened to Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights narrated by Robert G. Slade in a Random House Audio production. Slade’s voice was smooth and wry, perfectly capturing the distance, amusement, and wonder of the thirtieth-century narrators.

Publication date: September 8, 2015. From Salman Rushdie, one of the great writers of our time, comes a spellbinding work of fiction that blends history, mythology, and a timeless love story. A lush, richly layered novel in which our world has been plunged into an age of unreason, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is a breathtaking achievement and an enduring testament to the power of storytelling. In the near future, after a storm strikes New York City, the strangenesses begin. A down-to-earth gardener finds that his feet no longer touch the ground. A graphic novelist awakens in his bedroom to a mysterious entity that resembles his own sub–Stan Lee creation. Abandoned at the mayor’s office, a baby identifies corruption with her mere presence, marking the guilty with blemishes and boils. A seductive gold digger is soon tapped to combat forces beyond imagining. Unbeknownst to them, they are all descended from the whimsical, capricious, wanton creatures known as the jinn, who live in a world separated from ours by a veil. Centuries ago, Dunia, a princess of the jinn, fell in love with a mortal man of reason. Together they produced an astonishing number of children, unaware of their fantastical powers, who spread across generations in the human world. Once the line between worlds is breached on a grand scale, Dunia’s children and others will play a role in an epic war between light and dark spanning a thousand and one nights—or two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. It is a time of enormous upheaval, in which beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse. Inspired by the traditional “wonder tales” of the East, Salman Rushdie’s novel is a masterpiece about the age-old conflicts that remain in today’s world. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is satirical and bawdy, full of cunning and folly, rivalries and betrayals, kismet and karma, rapture and redemption.

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KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.

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6 comments

  1. This sounds like one I will have to buy TODAY.

  2. I love Rushdie’s style. I have this and am looking forward to listening to it.

  3. This sounds so good!

  4. I’ve never read a Rushdie book, but I like to read authors who break the “rules” like “Show, don’t tell.” I feel like there’s a lot to lean in seeing how they break the rules and get away with it.

    Also, jinns! Don’t get to read about them too often. I’ll have to chek it out.

  5. I have been really reluctant to read this because I read Rushdie’s “Midnight Children” and found it a monumental struggle – but this does sound up my street and I think you have persuaded me to give it a go!

    • I loved Midnight’s Children, but I found The Satanic Verses hard going because it was soooo bitter! I just got this book though, and I’m looking forward to it.

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