South Asian Challenge 2011

I did it! I managed to complete my one book pledge for the South Asian Challenge! If you’re wondering why this is such a big deal (after all, one book doesn’t seem like too much to ask) it’s because, well… it’s Gregory David Roberts’ fault! A few years ago, he wrote a book called, Shantaram. It’s an amazing epic adventure about Lin, an Australian convict who escapes to India. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Humphey Bower and, quite simply, it is one of the most amazing books, ever. That’s right. Amazing. Ever. In Shantaram, the listener basically falls in love with Lin as he makes his way through the different echelons of India’s cultures, forms relationships and, experiences what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land. Encouraged by Shantaram, I eagerly signed up for the South Asian Author Challenge in 2010 and promptly dived into the critically acclaimed White Tiger (by Aravind Adiga.) This was the first of three books I had pledged to read that year; and the only one I finished. I was incredibly disappointed in White Tiger. Maybe it’s because, as a native writer, there was much that Aravind Adiga took for granted or didn’t think the reader would be interested in; but after having all the exotic senses appealed to in Shantaram, White Tiger felt flat. After that early disappointment, I lost interest in the South Asian Author’s Challenge. But when the 2011 edition was announced, I felt a need to redeem myself somehow. @SKrishna made it easy by slightly modifying the rules: There was a one (1) book pledge level; and the author didn’t have to be South Asian (hence the challenge’s subtle re-naming.) I seriously considered re-listening to Shantaram – that’s right, all 42.6 hours of it (it’s that good); but on the other hand, I had cached a few books for the 2010 challenge that I hadn’t gotten around to.
The one that I ended up picking was actually the one that, for years, I had been intimidated by! The Satanic Verses (by Salman Rushdie) had such a reputation preceding it, that I wondered if I was intellectually capable of “getting it!” I had this idea that Salman Rushdie’s writing was as obtuse as Umberto Eco’s; that I needed to be more erudite on Muslim theology; that I was overreaching. What caused me to screw my courage to the sticking place and pick this title over the other South Asian titles in my stacks was simply a sense that it was time to do so. Not very epiphanic; but there you have it. I dnloaded The Satanic Verses in audio (narrated by Sam Dastor.) Very quickly, I was engaged and fascinated by the story and laughing at myself for ever having been afraid of this novel!
I finished The Satanic Verses last week and I’ve been thinking about various aspects of it since: The imagery of William the Conquerer as he landed in Britain; the dreams/time-traveling/hallucinations of Gibreel as he encounters The Prophet and, the Butterfly-clad Ayesha in particular. There were many things I could have written about in regard to The Satanic Verses: magic realism, identity, redemption, good and evil…; and I chose last week to touch on magical realism; but in the future, as I suspect I will be returning to this novel again, I may come back to one of these themes or uncover (a) whole new level of meaning(s).
I recently had occasion to check the print version online (I was looking for a reference while briefly discussing this book with someone else who had read it, albeit a few years ago) and I was struck by how great a job Sam Dastor did in narrating The Satanic Verses. He kept the story moving. Looking at the text, I think I might have been overwhelmed if I had tried to tackle reading it in print. There is an omnipresent invitation to worry over every passage, to wring out of it all meaning before moving on. I think I would have been mired in it very early on and not finished it. But I did finish it and I’m very glad I did!
Thank you Swapna for hosting The South Asian Challenge 2011 🙂
See Also:
Other Stuff: I receive no goods or services in exchange for mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post (including but not limited to publishers, vendors, authors, narrators, the host of the challenge and/or the challenge itself.)

Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses

by Salman Rushdie
narrated by Sam Dastor
Ⓟ 2009, Whole Story Audio
21.50 hours
The Satanic Verses is a brilliant, ironic – nearly absurdist, accessible and, engaging novel about two men who fall from a plane that has exploded over The English Channel. From the onset, images of surreal and intense quality flash before the mind’s eye, not unlike Alice falling down the rabbit hole. The pictures and language pour out as quickly as a stream of consciousness, at the same time moving with the deceptive slowness of a dream. “Magical realism” is a term that has been applied to this book; but the magic in The Satanic Verses is not really blended with reality so much as we are seeing the mind of each of the protagonists trying to make sense out of the mundane-but-nearly-inexplicable things that happen in their lives. In this way, the idea of creating images to help the person ingest what they are seeing, projecting meaning into events, deconstructing and reconstructing identities and, re-creating our world in a natural and god-like fashion, brings to the fore the question the amount of magic realism that each of use employs at any given moment. Whenever an individual imbues meaning onto a person, a place or thing, they are using their imagination to create a magical realism bubble of their own making and in which they reside. As individuals, we create our values from a subjective space, from within this bubble. We can share our visions whether it is in a common language, family history or, appreciation for a work of art. It is no coincidence that the two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha are actors, a film star and voiceover performer respectively. These two men live an extreme version of magical realism, being paid to superimpose other peoples visions, to channel a creative idea and, proselytize another’s perspective.
For those who are grounded solely in Western, Christian or atheistic cultures, the metaphors with Eastern, Muslim and Indian cultures may be lost upon them; but the novel remains accessible regardless. The outsider glimpses enough of Farishta’s and Chamcha’s worlds to understand their living contexts and; the concepts of existentialism are universal. For those who have been exposed to or, are a part of Eastern, Muslim and Indian culture, the inherent cultural metaphors are obvious and those listeners will unquestionably get more out of the allegorical devices within the story. Anyone’s interpretation of The Satanic Verses is a part of their own magical reality.
Sam Dastor narrated The Satanic Verses. His British accent, light comic delivery and his deftness with the material combine for an engaging audio experience. His pace prevents the listener from becoming mired or overindulgent with the text without treating any of the writing as superficial.
Other Stuff:
This title qualifies for the What’s in a Name? Challenge #4 hosted by @BethFishReads. The Satanic Verses is an audiobook with [Evil] in the title, “Satanic.”
This book also qualifies for the South Asian Author Challenge 2011:
I purchased this title from I receive no goods or services in exchange for reviewing this product, mentioning any of the persons or companies named in this post (including but not limited to the audiobook publisher, the vendor from which I purchased the audiobook, author, narrator and/or, the hosts of the challenges) or, the challenges for which this book qualifies.
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
— Sigmund Freud

South Asian Challenge 2011

To promote more people reading South Asian literature, Swapna Krisna is sponsoring the South Asian Challenge 2011. There have been a couple of changes to the challenge from last year, which broadens its scope and appeal: While any book’s setting must take place in a South Asian country, the title does not necessarily have to be written by a South Asian and; there is a one-book commitment 🙂
Last year, I did not meet my three-book commitment (hangs head in shame.) I only read one title, The White Tiger (by Aravind Adiga) but I had managed to cache quite a number of qualifying titles for the challenge anyway. Now in an effort to make significant headway into by TBR stacks, I think I can manage to read at least one of the South Asian books in that stack!
Some of the titles I am considering:
Shantaram (by Gregory David Roberts; narrated by Humphrey Bower) – an epic tale about an escaped Australian convict who ends up in India. This story has it all: love, loyalty, pageantry, squalor… Yes, I’ve listened to all 42+ hours of this audiobook before but I would love to listen to it again. It’s that good.
Sacred Games (by Vikram Chandra) – I have this in both print and audio (narrated by Anil Margsahayam) – I may not be able to follow this in audio so I have a backup print edition, just in case
Satanic Verses (by Salman Rushdie; narrated by Sam Dastor) – This is a title I may combine with the What’s in a Name Challenge #4 for the category in which readers pick a title with “evil” in the title. I have to admit though, I find it a little intimidating and may instead end up picking one of Rushhdie’s children’s folk tale books as an entre to his writing.
The Palace of Illusions (by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni; narrated by Sneha Mathan) – audio
The Twentieth Wife (by Indu Sundaresan; narrated by Sneha Mathan) – audio
Heat and Dust (by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala) – 1975 Man Booker winner