A 'Fire' without much heat from an old trickster
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Salman ("Sir" if you're British) Rushdie exercises his "playful" muscles in his 12th novel, a surprisingly slight effort from this serious writer.
"Luka and the Fire of Life" verges on Young Adult fiction, almost as though Mr. Rushdie was poaching on J.K. Rowling territory with her child wizards and fantasy worlds of magic and evil.
Like the Scottish billionaire, the India native creates his brand of bastardized magic, a hodgepodge of what Mr. Rushdie hopes are clever references to mythology, folklore and popular culture, showing off his erudition like a playground athlete demonstrating a jump shot over and over again until somebody says, "Nice one."
It's also a joky conspiracy with the readers who can congratulate themselves for getting the joke -- a DeLorean car, "Alice's Restau-Rat," a boat called the Argo, "Transformer" dragons, references to previous Rushdie books.
It doesn't take long for the novelty to wear off, at least on this reader whose back was sore from all the pats.
The story is the standard young-hero-goes-on-journey-of-trials-and-tests-with-helpful-companions, etc. Luka is a 12-year-old boy living in the mythical Kahani, a Hindi word that means story. His father is a renowned spinner of yarns who falls into a coma. Luka must get the Fire of Life to ..., well, you know the rest.
Mr. Rushdie isn't fooling anyone with this assembly-line story welded together from parts of this and that. It's patently obvious that he intends to show the machinery behind one of the oldest plots in world fiction. And what fuels the factory is the "magic" of storytelling.
Certainly, the medium is the message, tricked up with all the antics and wordplay that have marked this wizard of words during his career.
Sometimes it entertains, sometimes it's annoying and in one spot, the phrasing is so repetitive that it must be a printing error -- or is it another trick? That's on page 107.
This sorcerer's bag of gimmicks is a lark for Mr. Rushdie, a bit of fun between more meaningful work unless he's planning six more "Lukas" to give Ms. Rowling a run for the fantasy money.
First Published November 14, 2010 12:00 am