The title of this novel, TWO YEARS EIGHT MONTHS AND TWENTY-EIGHT NIGHTS, amounts to 1,001 nights–a significant number that tells you right up front what kind of novel this is. This is a fairy tale, told using interlocking and nested tales. It will involve heroes and villains and magic and love. And because it’s Rushdie, it will also involve a bit of faith versus reason. It’s an enjoyable novel, filled with moments that made me laugh, that made me gawp at Rushdie’s ability to deliver both wondrous lines and awkward lines, and that entertained me during my commute.
The story begins, as most fairy tales do, with a “once upon a time” of sorts. The narrator is looking back on events that have forever changed his world. These events began two millennia before the narrator lived and reach a climax one millennium before the narrator (and our present day). So while some critics have faulted Rushdie for inaccurate history, I’m willing to let it slide. Anyway, the story begins after Ibn Rushd has done philosophical battle with his rival, Al-Ghazali. Ibn Rushd has lost, been fired from his job, and sent into exile. Thankfully, a female genie, or jinnia, has fallen in love with his mind and his arguments for reason, rationality, cause and effect over Al-Ghazali’s preference for faith, religion, and trust in God. The two have an affair lasting 1,001 nights. She bears him children, a dozen at a time, all marked by lobeless ears. And she is not just some jinnia, oh no. She is the Lightning Princess, heir to fairyland, and quite powerful. And so some bit of that power is transmitted through the generations of her legacy. Some bit of magic survives in our world, even as the gateways between our world and fairy land get sealed up for 1,000 years.
Jumping ahead to our time, the gateways have once again re-opened, and a war in Fairyland has spilled out into our world. The jinnia princess returns, gathers her descendants, and fights the dark, evil, male jinn. A period of “strangeness” comes to the planet and lasts 1,001 nights, as both humans and jinn warp the world using magic. People lift off the ground,and the ascent eventually kills them. Or they are crushed as they are pushed down toward the earth. Still others can transmute matter, and some can shoot lightning. And of course, humanity reacts in a variety of ways–fighting back, hunkering down, forming roving gangs, and reverting back to religious fundamentalism. In fact, one of the evil jinn takes over the “country of A.,” becoming the leader of a fundamentalist group that loves to ban nearly everything under the sun.
Anyway, I’ll stop there, before I get too spoilerific. There are certain things this novel does well. It mixes magic and reality well, it’s a wonderful story about storytelling, and Rushdie portrays pain and loss quite skillfully. But Fairyland is one-note, as are the four evil jinn. Many of the women in the story are young and beautiful, falling into the arms of older men. But bottom line is that the arguments made in this story have been made by Rushdie before. And although this time they are told in a lighter, sillier, almost comic book-like fashion, it’s a retread. Unfortunately, this fairy tale is more likely to put me to sleep than to keep me up all night.
I received an e-ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.