n his 15th book, Salman Rushdie once more catapults readers into Magic Land. His second work for children, “Luka and the Fire of Life.” lights up the skies. As did his 1981 “Midnight’s Children.” That historical-social-fable gained the year’s Booker Prize for Fiction, The Booker of all Bookers in 2003, and the 2008 Best-All-Time-Booker (by public vote). Through three decades it has opened doors to subcontinent writing, and the imaginative fictions of “magic realism.”
Few works since (by Rushdie or imitators) have duplicated Midnight’s effortless joyousness, and that firecracker burst of fantastic imagery. Now Rushdie’s done it again. In this apparently simple childhood fable, dedicated to second son, Milan (Luka), on his 12th birthday.
Sketchily paralleling “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” his earlier children’s book dedicated to first son Jafar, “Fire,” is a father-son tale. But 18 years on, this second coming of age story tweaks computer game skills to create an adventure quite fearsome. Because Rashid Khalifa, Luka’s father and the city of Rashani’s chief storyteller, “the Shah of Blah,” the man in the vermillion bush shirt and Panama hat, is suddenly without words. He’s dying!
Gazing out his father’s bedside window, Luka spies a second Rashid. Dashing outdoors with friends Bear and Dog, Luka meets the Shah’s avatar, as it turns from wraith shape to real bones and skin. He’s Nobobody, absorbing Rashid’s life.
Luka passes perilous hurdles, halts, flashing lights, and restarts. Finally reaching the Land of Fire, to steal the flame, which restores life. He races against Time, ancient gods and goddesses, and cyber monsters. Until Luka does what children must to grow up: face obstacles and reach game’s end.
A must-book to give your favorite child, or yourself. A totally not-illustrated work, which reminds: The right word is worth a thousand pictures.