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The Ground Beneath Her Feet - Salman Rushdie

The Ground Beneath Her Feet
Salman Rushdie

The greatest, finest, most eloquent novel ever written about rock & roll gods, “The ground beneath her feet” is exciting and thrilling, but also philosophical and condensed in content and meaning. It is the extraordinary tale of extraordinary characters, enacted in a kind of parallel world. This fiction presented merely as such reveals greater truths by questioning solid concepts like reality and human nature.

   This is a novel that reveals the undisputed genius of its author, his sensitivity in perceiving every little detail of this world, but also his ability to give greater messages of universal importance. The structure of the novel is also remarkably well organized; there is a slow build-up that leads to a climax, despite the retrospective nature of the narration.

   Rushdie seems to be seeking answers to the question/debate which he so lyrically defines: “death is more than love or is it. Art is more than love or is it. Love is more than death and art or not. This is the subject. This is the subject. This is it.” This novel is an eulogy to love, divine love that goes beyond death and art, or perhaps is merely reinforced by these.

   Rushdie does, however, admit that death has power, especially in creating a myth: “in death she has indeed transcended all frontiers: of race, skin, religion, language, history, nation, class”. Death is also presented as able to conquer and overshadow “human” love as was the case with Rai’s love for Vina: “But I was wrong about the nature of the metamorphic force working its marvels upon us. In our case it was not love, but death”.

   However, the divine love between Ormus and Vina is one that goes beyond death. The mere call of one lover to the other is powerful enough to bring that other back from the abyssal depths of despair and near-death. When Vina dies Ormus follows the pattern of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, trying to bring his beloved back to life, but when Ormus fails to do so, he willingly follows her to death.

   The question of human divinity seems to preoccupy Rushdie. He doesn’t seem to come to a definite answer, apart from the conclusion that some “have it” while others don’t: “Many of us are able to answer life’s darkest questions”. Most of us are trying to be what we cannot be: “there is that within us which believes us worthy of the stars” i.e. people aren’t satisfied with being human, we wish to be divine, explain the mysterious.
Rushdie’s ambivalence on this subject gives credit to the view that in every human being there’s the Apollonian and the Dionysiac nature. It is interesting to observe that Vina “Divina” was of Greek-Indian origin and that Darius Cama devoted most of his academic studies to proving the relationship between Greek and Indian mythology.

   What the novel ultimately aims to express are the fragility of this world, the relativity of reality, and the ground constantly moving beneath our feet. Rushdie is questioning reality, our sense of order, and the world as we perceive it: “the world isn’t realistic any more” (but is it “real”?) So two worlds are in collision, and one will inevitably crumble and fall. The “other” world, however, is not any better just different and not that much so. One of the reasons Rushdie gives for the end of the world is that people broke away from tribal collectivity, creating pluralistic societies of individuals, but “if we could cut ourselves loose, then so could everything else, so could event and space and time and description and fact, so could reality itself”. So what happened yesterday no longer has happened today, or is it that it is no longer remembered? Ultimately, the world is being destroyed, or self-punished because “the best in our nature is drowning in the worst”.

   What this novel ultimately proves is that Salman Rushdie is one of the literary geniuses of our time, a linguistic expert, and a deep thinker. He is not an artist lost in space still searching for creative inspiration, but one that, having found what he wants to say, has in the process acquired a sharp insight of this world. He is a man of the world, then, even if this world is, as he himself hints, not worth existing.

Book review by Anna Hassapi the big site