I don't know why this one was so hard for me to review. Rushdie has written a lyrical and poetic tale that is supposed to be a spin on 1001 nights. It is about a storm in the approximate-now (a little in the future) that resulted in 1001 nights of "strangenesses," a near-millennium long debate between two philosophers that began in the far past and continued into the time of the strangenesses, and a historical account of the narrators' ancestors, who began with one of the philosophers and continued into the 1001 nights of strangenesses. So right, that doesn't clear it up.
It's about a jinni who falls in love with a philosopher in the past, who allows him to mistreat her and refuse to marry her and give all of her children (with him) his legitimate name, and who passes back into her own world for nearly a thousand years, while their children have children and so on until there are many descendants all over the world and we are in the approximate-now. It is then about a re-awakening of the philosopher and his philosophical nemesis and their continued intellectual debate which turns into a physical war, apparently between the jinn and the humans but, at its heart, between the two philosophies. It then becomes about the war and the strangenesses that are indicative of that time when the jinn sought to take control and the humans, many descendants of the jinni-who-fell-in-love and her philosopher, who fo
ught back. And it is all told as a history, from the perspective of the future (near-1000 years in the future) descendants of the descendants.
Maybe that's why it's been so hard to review... it's much to wrap your head around. It is interesting and it is pretty and it is thought-provoking. It is romantic and harsh and philosophical. It is historical and analytical and distant. It is so many things (in not that many pages!), and it is a dense, thoughtful read. And it is enjoyable, but not fun. It is fulfilling in many ways, but not complete. Its focus is broad - covering millennia - and yet it is almost only about 1 person (the jinni who fell in love with a human). And it is even funny. Rushdie throws in a lot of repetition about the obsession of the jinn (sex) that, in lesser hands would have been infuriating but was, instead, point-making and amusing. I really appreciated a lot about the book. I liked Rushdie's story and imagination and his take on the 1001 nights.
What weren't so great to me were the pace and the fact that it seemed a bit unfocused. I would have liked the book to be a little more intentional about being 1 thing or another. I would have loved Rushdie's take on the fantastical or Rushdie's romance and philosophy or Rushdie's political waxing as a historical tome... but attempting all 3 at once ended up feeling a bit slow and cumbersome. It also felt a bit unfocused... I'm not sure why - it's not simply the time-period or the variety of characters that are covered - I think it was the constant shift in perspective, perhaps without enough of a shift in perspective. Maybe there was too much sameness with all the differences. I'm not sure, but it felt, to me, a little unfocused and a little belabored.
Nevertheless, I am very glad to have read this. I am looking forward to more Rushdie. I would definitely recommend to Rushdie fans. I would also recommend to those interested in a philosophical evaluation of our time with some fantasy thrown in for good measure. But I'm not sure I would recommend to someone looking for a quick fun magic-realism tale - this one takes on a more serious tone and pace.
All in all, THREE AND A HALF of five stars