Published by Random House, 2010
Hardcover, 218 pages
Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, magical realism, YA
Synopsis (via Goodreads): With the same dazzling imagination and love of language that have made Salman Rushdie one of the great storytellers of our time, Luka and the Fire of Life revisits the magic-infused, intricate world he first brought to life in the modern classic Haroun and the Sea of Stories. This breathtaking new novel centers on Luka, Haroun’s younger brother, who must save his father from certain doom. For Rashid Khalifa, the legendary storyteller of Kahani, has fallen into deep sleep from which no one can wake him. To keep his father from slipping away entirely, Luka must travel to the Magic World and steal the ever-burning Fire of Life. Thus begins a quest replete with unlikely creatures, strange alliances, and seemingly insurmountable challenges as Luka and an assortment of enchanted companions race through peril after peril, pass through the land of the Badly Behaved Gods, and reach the Fire itself, where Luka’s fate, and that of his father, will be decided. Filled with mischievous wordplay and delving into themes as universal as the power of filial love and the meaning of mortality, Luka and the Fire of Life is a book of wonders for all ages.
My review: First of all, if you read the synopsis above you'll know that this is the sequel to an earlier work by Salman Rushdie entitled Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I would recommend that you read Haroun's adventures before picking up Luka's as there are many minor references in the sequel you may not understand otherwise. Plus, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is delightful in and of itself. However, if you don't get the chance to I wouldn't worry all that much as this book's plot and development is strong enough to be read independently. And now, on to the actual review...
This is a deliciously written book with a story you can sink into and drift along on. It is rich with mythological figures and tales, as well as many original characters directly from the author's imagination. Luka and the Fire of Life is whimsical and dreamy, even recalling Alice in Wonderland at certain points. I loved it when a little "white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and looking worriedly at a clock" popped up on the bank of the River of Time, for instance.
There are lots of issues broached that have a universal appeal as well, the main issue being the nature of time. In this book time is represented as a river flowing away from the mists of the past and toward the mists of the future. Luka wrestles with the idea of predestination: does the future already exist so that the course of the river follows a predetermined path? Or can our actions shape, even change, the river's flow? Luka is also told that "...if you want to travel up the River, Memory is the fuel you need." This is a very important concept to plant in the mind of a young reader to help him or her realize that memories are much more than the static remains of the past. Rather, they are the seeds of the future and memories are absolutely vital if a person is to grow and reap knowledge from prior experiences. Towards the end of Luka's journey he begins to reflect on something his father had said that before sounded like nonsense: time is not a constant marching forward, one precise second after another. Rather, it speeds up and slows down depending on what you are doing, and it does not mean the same thing to everybody as each person experiences life differently. There are several other issues presented to the reader for consideration, including whether tyranny is excusable or not if created and maintained in the name of respect, if exemption from consequences when following orders is acceptable or not, and how justifiable the sacrifice of innocents is, even if perceived as benefiting the greater good.
I love how thought-provoking this novel is, particularly for young readers, and that the author brings issues to the forefront that are not usually discussed in Young Adult literature. I also appreciate that he does not neatly resolve each issue, but rather allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.
The only problem a reader may run into is the fact that the story does move a little slowly. It is definitely a book you need to fully immerse yourself in and forget about the page numbers. Simply read it to enjoy the experience and the journey.
Ah yes, one more thing I'd like to share: my favorite passage... "Man is the Storytelling Animal, and...in Stories are his identity, his meaning, and his lifeblood. Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants ele-phantasize? You know as well as I do that they do not. Man alone burns with books."
I hope you enjoy this work as much as I did. Whether you love it or hate it, though, I'm anxious to hear your thoughts! I love a good discussion :) In the meantime, happy reading!