For fans of Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, comes yet another delightful tale featuring Haroun’s younger brother Luka. When Haroun and Luka’s father, famed storyteller Rashid Khalifa succumbs to a sleeping sickness, Luka embarks on a mission to the World of Magic to retrieve the Fire of Life itself. Joining him on his quest is a singing dog named bear, a dancing bear named Dog, and the mysterious Nobodaddy, Rashid’s ghostly double.
In a bustling and minutely imagined fantastical landscape crammed with allegorical figures and places, Luka moves between the mythological and the contemporary: one minute he is meeting all manner of gods and goddesses, the other he’s subject to the laws of the video game, keeping a close eye on the number of “lives” he has left and trying to save his progress through various levels.
The novel moves quickly and there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments. The only times it seems to drag is when Luka turns to introspection or worse, when he analyzes his companions and the world around him. It’s like Rushdie is trying to lead his audience instead of letting them get it on their own. It doesn’t help that Luka sometimes acts like a spoiled brat. (Then again, I have yet to meet a twelve-year old who didn’t act like that at one time or another.)
Favorite Line/Image: When Grandmaster Flame was right in front of him, Luka shouted out at the top of his voice, ‘May your animals stop obeying your commands and your rings of fire eat up your stupid tent.’
Now it so happened that the moment when Luka shouted out in anger was one of those rare instants when by some in – explicable accident all the noises of the universe fall silent at the same time, the cars stop honking, the scooters stop phutphuttering, the birds stop squawking in the trees, and everyone stops talking at once, and in that magical hush Luka’s voice rang out as clearly as a gunshot, and his words expanded until they filled the sky, and perhaps even found their way to the invisible home of the Fates who, according to some people, rule the world. Captain Aag winced as if somebody had slapped him on the face and then he stared straight into Luka’s eyes, giving him a look of such blazing hatred that the young boy was almost knocked off his feet. Then the world started making its usual racket again, and the circus parade moved on, and Luka and Rashid went home for dinner. But Luka’s words were still out there in the air, doing their secret business.
What I learned: Though they do slow – and sometimes halt – the narrative, some of the best moments come when Luka ponders how his actions will change others’ lives. His quest is an arduous one that endangers his friends, and he knows it.
“I am exploiting their love and loyalty,” he thinks. “It seems there is no such thing as a purely good deed, a completely right action.”
Despite all the action going on around him, Luka’s struggle is primarily a moral one. And like many adolescent magical heroes, he recognizes that the tough part about being a kid is that the job of being the adult largely falls to him.
Bottom Line: A great story full of adventure, mischief, and magic. Highly recommended for kids and adults.