Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Monday, May 30, 2011

Title: Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Author: Salman Rushdie
Genre: Contemporary literature, fantasy, children's
Publisher: Granta, 1990
Source: Library

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is the fantastical tale of Haroun, son of the greatest storyteller that ever lived (called the Ocean of Notions by his admirers and the Shah of Blah by his enemies). Haroun and his parents live in a city so sad it has forgotten its name, but the Ocean of Notions manages to bring smiles and entertainment to its residents until the sadness of the city creeps into their own family and he loses the Gift of Gab. Haroun is determined to help his father and ends up on an exciting journey on the Sea of Stories, meeting the Chups and Gups and finding the source of all stories.

I read this book as an(other) introduction to Rushdie's work - I heard that this story, written for his son Zafar, gave a good glimpse into the world of magical realism without stretching too long or confusing.

And I have to say it - I. Love. Magical realism! I've heard so many negative reactions to this sub-genre, and I expected to have a similar reaction. I hate not understanding a book or feeling like I have to read a research paper or nonfiction explanation in order to understand a story. I enjoy getting at the deeper layers of meaning, but I don't like being completely incapable of grasping a story on any level without having done research beforehand. I thought this would be the case with magical realism, but I was mistaken, at least in this case. It was fun!

This book really reminded me of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, a book that I really thought I'd enjoy after seeing the various movie incarnations, but that didn't end up working for me at all (I think I was just too old when I finally read it). I know there are all kinds of hidden agendas in Alice, but I wasn't familiar with them or desirous to ferret them out.Haroun also had these hidden agendas and clever wink-wink moments, but they delighted me instead of eluding me completely. (A little glossary at the back of the book helped immensely - many of the names in the book have double meanings). There were several allusions to other works, including "I Am the Walrus" by the Beatles, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. Two of Haroun's companions are named Iff and Butt. These little elements could have been distracting, but they added up to a tight and cohesive story - everything had some importance, some meaning. Loose ends were not left untied.

The story itself was beautiful and charming - an intriguing fairytale of how stories come into existence. The stories themselves are described as beautiful colored threads in the waters of the ocean, and the pains the Gups take to save those stories are both fascinating and heroic. While this story was written for children, it definitely appeals to the adult as connections are made and Haroun is taken on an epic journey to save stories. Rushdie examines why we should care about stories instead of allowing them to be extinguished by Khattum-Shud (the evil prince of the Chups and the word for "The End"). He incorporates romance, adventure, and fantasy into a story with a simplicity that allows the beauty to be more clearly manifested, rather than dumbed down. Children will probably enjoy this odd adventure, but I think adults will also find meaning and enjoyment in Haroun's adventures.

4 stars

Warnings for the sensitive reader: very vague allusions to infidelity in marriage


  1. Oh I'm so so SO glad you liked it. I love it, as you know, and I would have been sad if you were disappointed at all after I talked it up so much.

    For the record, the 15-page research paper I had to write for my lit class focused heavily on the ideas expressed in this novel. At times I felt like I was writing more about Haroun than Satanic Verses.

    Now you should read Luka and the Fire of Life.

  2. This sounds great but my only experience with Rushdie so far has been the first 100 odd pages of Midnight's Children and I hated it. Maybe this one would be a better introduction to his writing ...


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