What is the meaning of reality? What is the meaning of illusion? Luka and the Fire of Life is filled with the attempt to answer those “big questions”. This is a children’s book written by Salman Rushdie. A rare literary massage, full of dazzling riddles, meaningful adventure, and endless entertainment. I start out with a boy named Luka who looks like a normal boy with special reputation: bullying the bully and playing with itching powder in the playground. It is not a heroic action at all. But then, with the title and the synopsis, I just knew he must be the hero of the story who has to save his father from his doom. Luka is the brother of Haroun, from the first Rushdie’s children’s modern literature, Haroun And the Sea of Stories
The tale begins with a circus in town, bringing sick and undernourished animals. This makes Luka (and Bear, the singing dog and Dog, the dancing bear) really angry at how the animals are treated. He curses The Ringmaster, and oh my God, the curse works. I agree on what he has done: cursing those who mistreats animals. The more animals are mistreated, the more they want to mistreat you. As an act of revenge, The Ringmaster curses back Luka’s father, the famous storyteller Rashid Khalifa (also known as the Shah of Blah), to fall into a deep sleep.
So, this is how Luka sets off his breathtaking adventure: from the revenge. Revenge is not good at all. When I feel angry at one person, I always count to 10; if not, count to 100. The story offers a reminder to me that some are easily offended and I should be careful with these kind of people.
Luka is left handed; and I am too. I am immediately attached to him once I knew he is the same like me. I don’t understand why some people consider the lefties are second class. I am quite normal. All over the book, it’s written like this: ‘right handed people are not always right’. By that, Rushdie is trying to say that “the left” does not mean wrong. This is another clever word-play. Of course, “the left” does not necessary mean “the hand”. It could be anything. The best quote is from Luka’s mother, Soraya: “Maybe you are correct to believe that the left way around is the right way, and the rest of us are not right but wrong”.
By the way, I heard that Rushdie’s second born son is also left-handed. He must be writing from his life experience. Milan, Rushdie’s second son, requested a book that was written with him in mind. What a wonderful father Salman Rushdie is!
Like I said in the beginning, riddles are included inside this story. From the riddle, Luka and the Fire of Life is connected with myth. Luka travels down to the River of Time, Mountain of Knowledge, and the Land of Badly Behaved Gods. There are many Gods from every old religions and believes (Gods of Egyptian, Norse, Aztec and Chinese, among others) who live there with their own stories. There is a sphinx that asks the riddle to passerby and only a Greek hero has solved it: Oedipus. Rushdie must believe in Gods from all religions.
After Rashid Khalifa fell into a deep sleep, Luka met Nobodaddy; Luka’s father’s conscious mind who brings him to the World of Magic. The World of Magic turns out to be the video games Luka loves to play. I think Rushdie is never against video games, exactly. Look at the beginning pages! Rashid Khalifa cheerily defends video game.
Through out the book, the question that I ponder myself is, “Is Luka’s journey to get The Fire reality or not?” Take this quote for example: “It’s only through Stories that you can get out into the Real World and have some sort of power again”. What is the meaning of it? I don’t want to spoil the richness of the story, but at the end, it turns out that Luka is traveling inside his father’s head. From World of Magic, Luka is taught about differentness, tolerance, and respect.
Salman Rushdie is one of my favorite writers. Just because of one book, The Satanic Verses, he was threatened to death by some muslims, but he kept on writing. That is one example of a role model. I really adore Salman Rushdie’s books. If you love the once-upon-a-time tale being a charming doorway to a world of (children’s and adult) literature, this is the book for you.