Thursday, March 19, 2009

Everyone jump upon the L train

I'm still waiting for someone to say something to me as I read The Satanic Verses on the subway or bus in New York City. I look around at the diverse crowds to see if they notice me reading it -- because I always spy on what other passengers are reading -- and only half-jokingly wonder if anyone wants to say something to me about it. So far all I've had were a couple people across from me on the L train into Manhattan once who started talking to each other about it, instead of me. I heard the 30-ish girl tell her twentysomething guy friend, "No, and Cat Stevens like totally said, 'He should die,' like, he completely said he should die because of the fatwa."

She refers, of course, to when the artist formerly still known to me as Cat Stevens was widely, famously quoted as "supporting" the fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing the book. Having now read a bit more about it, I think I understand what Cat Stevens, fairly new to Islam at the time, was trying to say: that blasphemy is, under Islamic law, a sin punishable by death. I think he was trying to qualify his statement a lot that if he were in an Islamic state bound by that law in that court then he would be bound to carry out the sentence, but it still didn't (doesn't) sit well, particularly with those of us who thought Cat Stevens would be on the side of goodness and non-violence in all things. He probably shouldn't have said anything at all; I think he still gets asked about it and tries to say it was a media-induced frenzy.

Frankly, the worst fallout for me personally was that after that happened 10,000 Maniacs removed their cover of "Peace Train" from their album In My Tribe and from then on it was sold with one less track and then when I wanted to replace my In My Tribe cassette with a CD it took forever to find online an old copy that included "Peace Train," and I had to pay like $40 for the CD (hello, this was 1995, pre-Napster, even), and so, yeah. Plus Natalie Merchant has since refused to sing it in concert. Good for her, but bad for those of us who'd love to hear it. It's certainly more sensible than Indigo Girls refusing to ever again play "Nashville" live, though. At least Nashville didn't advocate killing anybody. Unless you count all the God-told-me-to-go-to-war-in-Iraq nonsense songs in popular country these last few years. Which, ugh.

ANYWAY. About the book. I'm on page 433, closing in on an ending. It's such a mish-mash of peoples, although at least all the little bits are interesting. I'm not particularly moved or wowed, but it's solid. Worth a read -- particularly if you want to show off to your literary friends. (Joke, okay.) I don't suppose you can really start any trouble by reading it, as long as you're not in a mosque or Iran, although I guess back in the day you couldn't have it in, like, Malaysia or somewhere either so any hipster backpackers carrying it under one arm with Lonely Planet tucked under the other could have been majorly screwed.

My favorite part of the last couple dozen pages was a rumination on how Machiavelli is misunderstood. Saladin Chamcha, the sometimes devil character, reminds himself there are lessons to be learned from Niccolo Machiavelli:

"...a wronged man, his name...a synonym for evil; whereas in fact his staunch republicanism had earned him the rack, upon which he survived, was it three turns of the wheel?...if Niccolo could survive such tribulation and live to write that perhaps embittered, perhaps sardonic parody of the sycophantic mirror-of-princes literature..." (p. 415)

I love it! No one ever seems to agree with me that Machiavelli was just messing with us. Other parts I have recently enjoyed include all the Mount Everest talk and analogies (I like Everest things), including the character Alleluia Cone who climbs Everest, sees dead people, and then occasionally sees them in London, too. I also really liked the twelve-women-in-the-brothel part. I guess that might also be one of the blaspheming parts, comparing Mohammad's twelve wives to the twelve ladies of the evening? was so cleverly done. And it called him out on his polygamy.

Well, this is definitely a literary book, with allusions to Shakespeare, Islam, and all kinds of things, and I like it, although I'm not backing away from calling it weird just yet. Meanwhile, it's almost time to pick an 'S' author!

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