“…a torrent of endlessly inventive prose, by turns comic and enraged, embracing life in all its contradictions. In this spectacular novel, verbal pyrotechnics barely outshine its psychological truths.” —Newsday
The Satanic Verses online course meets Thursdays from 6:30-8 pm Eastern starting on October 13. We meet online for a weekly lecture and discussion. The reading schedule is below.
- October 13 – Chapter 1 (89 pages)
- October 20 – Chapters 2-3 (114 pages)
- October 27 – Chapter 4-5.1 (92 pages)
- November 3 – Chapters 5.2-6 (100 pages)
- November 10 – Chapter 7 (71 pages)
- November 17 – Chapters 8-9 (69 pages)
There are as many ways to read Salman Rushdie as magical realist references in his novels. Rushdie’s novels weave many patterns across a broad range of human encounters. However, one emerging thread contains many parallels to Rushdie’s lived experience. Rushdie’s oeuvre transcends the boundaries of traditional literature, combined with deep readings in literature and the ability to integrate pop culture, contemporary social concerns, and resonant humanity of unity and kindness.
The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie’s fourth and most controversial novel. It contains all the elements of a great-books reading experience, and this course will explore them each. The story is maximalist in size and scope. It encompasses most of the human dilemma with a large cast of characters, shifting timescape, intercontinental geography, and multiple protagonists. These occur under the skillful gaze of a barely controlled and unexpected narrative character. It is not Rushdie who tells this story, but his fictional avatar in the persona of one of the most well-known figures in all literature.
The narrator of The Satanic Verses gives us nearly direct access to the two main characters’ dreams, thoughts, and feelings. Just when we think he will take over and explain things to us, as in the previous two novels, this self-reflective figure steps back, inviting readers to follow the characters and find truth through our unique experience of the unfolding story.
“I know the truth, obviously, I watched it,” the narrator reveals after the opening scene.
Rushdie’s novels, in many ways, emerge along with his self-reflections on life. Grimus, his first, was a poorly received construction of his love of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction, the stuff of adolescent idealism. Midnight’s Children brought together the Bombay of Rushdie’s childhood at the time of the partition and the new country of Pakistan, where his family emigrated during the chaotic years following the British withdrawal from the subcontinent. Shame presented a deep look into the centuries-old conflicts that continue to shape the modern nation of Pakistan. Rushdie’s family lived in Pakistan after he went to school in London, and Rushdie unsuccessfully tried to move there to build a life.
In The Satanic Verses, one of the principal challenges the characters face is the tension between life in India and life in England, where Rushdie had settled with his young family as he wrote the novel. With origins in India but ambitions in the broader world, both protagonists live with the struggles of the diaspora in a thousand and one ways throughout the novel. From its fiery and explosive opening over the English Channel at the height of Everest to the fall and transformation of the two protagonists into archangel and devil, Rushdie traces a plot that moves back and forth between private and public lives, religious fervor, and secular ambition, loyalty to self and family, love and death, and ultimately perhaps to the fate that binds each of us as it forms in our response to the vicissitudes of unexpected events large and small and the ever-surprising revelations of individual consciousness. These come in the form of dreams, regrets, impulses, wanton acts of both intention and accident, destruction, redemption, and for some, a resolution toward life, while others move toward extinction.
Filled with wonder, including mythological figures from Eastern and Western traditions, religious origin stories, miracles, and frauds, The Satanic Verses is, above all, original and compelling, a page-turner from the start but also a novel to be savored and reread, talked about, and turned to as a fountain of profound wisdom in a world continuously divided around the artificial nature of power, truth, belief, and hope for a better future.
Join our ambitious and diverse team of mountaineers as we scale the latest of our Himalayan novels, reminded again of what mountaineer Rheinhold Messner said when asked whether he worried about dying after making the first solo ascent of Everest, “I didn’t come here to die. I came here to live.”
For Salman Rushdie and all the other authors, thinkers, and writers who put their lives on the line every day so that we might continue to enjoy the freedoms of conscious evolution, unfettered by dogma, popular pressure, or the more malevolent forces that reduce, repress, and seek to eliminate healthy discourse in any field, The Satanic Verses is an icon to be treasured. I dedicate this reading to Salman Rushdie and the generations ahead as humankind continues to evolve and hopefully thrive.