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New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Duniazat" by Salman Rushdie

Issue: June 1, 2015

Story (novel excerpt): "The Duniazat" by Salman Rushdie

Rating: $$

Review: Rushdie is another one of those contemporary authors that I'm embarrassed to say I had zero exposure to prior to reading this story. The first and best thing I can say about this "story" -- really an excerpt from his upcoming novel Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (1,001 nights, in case you're counting) -- is that it makes me want to read more Rushdie.

Set in Spain in the year 1195, the story involves the philosopher Ibn Rushd, who gets exiled from the royal palace and has to go live in a small town. There he is visited by a "jinni" (genie) in disguise as a young woman named Dunia. The two fall in love and start having children. Because she's a jinni, she has multiple children at a time, a sort of "tribe" in fact, which Rushd dubs the "Duniazat". Ultimately, Dunia disappears into a puff of smoke and Rushd is allowed back to the royal palace. His ideas and his children live on and span the globe.

Leather Jacket
Now, do not let the paltry, excessively revisionist summary I've just written there distract from the touching elegance and humor of Rushdie's writing. There's a lot packed into a small space here, and I can only imagine if he keeps this up for 300 or so pages it will be an incredibly fun novel. Apparently the novel's conceit is built upon stories -- like this one -- of jinnis like Dunia visiting humans throughout history.

Especially "cute" in the story is how the jinni Dunia, even though she's a supernatural being temporarily inhabiting the body of a young woman, takes on so many of the characteristic (or at least stereotypical) traits of a young wife married to an older man. She seems to wear her new-found human-hood pretty well.

Also notable is Rushdie's sentimental finale to the story in which he writes about how the Duniazat end up covering the globe, concentrating (ultimately, after centuries) in a few specific places like North America and the Indian subcontinent. Personally, I love it when an author can whimsically span years, or decades or centuries in a few paragraphs, taking the sort of mile-high view on human existence which is necessary sometimes so as not to get caught up in the minutiae (and seeming futility) of the life of a single human being.

I feel a little hamstrung here because of my lack of Rushdie knowledge, so I'm just going to quit while I'm ahead and say based on this tiny glimpse of his work, I'm bound to correct this gap in my literary education very soon.

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