By Annie Zhang
What you’ve learned about genies is wrong—not all genies are as funny as Robin Williams. In fact, they aren’t even called genies. According to Salman Rushdie’s new novel Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, the correct term is jinn or jinnia, and their distinctive feature is the lack of earlobes. Rushdie beautifully crafts elements of the mystical Fairyland that secretly coexists with the human world in his new magical realism novel. The novel follows Dunia, the princess jinnia, as she falls in love with a human, breaches the separation of the two worlds, and begins a “war of the worlds” against her fellow jinns. Many have called the book “a bedtime story for adults,” which is a suitable name because of the apparent influence of Arabian Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern, Asian, and Islamic folk tales, on the novel.
The influence of Arabian Nights, otherwise known as One Thousand and One Nights, on Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is most obvious in the title, which is equivalent to 1001 nights. Throughout the novel, the number 1001 will dictate the length and amount of many important events and objects. In addition, like many authors of some stories in the collection Arabian Nights, Rushdie weaves philosophical and religious opinions into the story. Rushdie not only comments on Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism but also indirectly promotes the tolerance of the different religions. In fact, Rushdie’s philosophy advocates the tolerance of many modern social matters; refreshing discussions of sexual orientation, eating disorders, racial discrimination, and the patriarchy are blended into the plot of the story, providing intriguing observations of the world.
Although the novel is officially magical realism, there’s truly something interesting for everyone. It’s clear that Rushdie is a genuine intellectual because he has an extensive understanding of history, philosophy, science, mythology, and literature. Many portions of the novel read almost like a textbook, providing impressive insights on a variety of topics. While describing Akbar the Great’s reign during India’s sixteenth century Mughal Empire and Neoclassicism in nineteenth century America, Rushdie discusses Greek and Sumerian mythology. When mentioning examples of classic literature such as Madame Bovary, Candide, and Keatsian poetry, he explains that the jinn live in the fifth dimension and travel to the human world through wormholes in space. After comparing Aristotle’s and Plato’s philosophies, he quotes Genesis from the Bible. By simply reading this novel, you can certainly learn a lot about the world and acquire a considerable amount of knowledge.
Despite the book’s strong educational content, Rushdie still manages to engage the interest of people who don’t understand the academic allusions by cleverly scattering elements of pop culture throughout the story. Throughout the novel, Rushdie comically references YouTube, Marvel’s Mystique, Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, Westboro Baptist Church’s controversy, Harry Potter, and skinny jeans. On many occasions, Rushdie also makes satirical remarks about pop culture, which may make the read more enjoyable for many high school students.
Even though this book is extremely interesting, it can be somewhat confusing and controversial at times. The format of the dialogue in this novel is very unconventional, for thoughts and conversations are always in italics instead of quotes. Furthermore, Rushdie frequently includes phrases in Latin or French, but people who don’t know that amour propre means pride in French are required to tediously search up its meaning. Also, since there are approximately ten major characters, not all the characters’ stories are fully developed, making it difficult to remember details of the many different characters: a gardener unintentionally begins to levitate, a baby’s presence identifies corruption, a graphic novelist’s creation comes alive. Many of the characters don’t have complete arcs because the narrative constantly changes between different characters, but that concurs with a message of the book—digression is inevitable.
Frankly, this novel’s popularity will probably be short-lived and weaker than his other works because some of the novel’s aspects do not transcend time. Thus, it’s likely that this book will not win two Booker Awards, end up on a classics bookshelf for later generations, and live up to the expectations from Midnight’s Children; however, the novel perhaps will be remembered differently in literature. This story might serve as a written record of the current cultural perceptions, almost like an extended inside joke that only this generation is capable of understanding. It may possibly even help future generations decipher and explain modern pop culture—because who can actually comprehend Donald Trump’s popularity?