Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights wears its literary precursor proudly. Scheherazade and her endless string of stories are both the fabric of this tale and its yarn. Salman Rushdie doesn't so much echo A Thousand and One Night as he bellows its narrative influence in a sprawling novel that emerges as an ode to storytelling.
"To tell a story about the past is to tell a story about the present. To recount a fantasy, a story of the imaginary, is also a way of recounting a tale about the actual." That the past and the present, the imaginary and the actual, blend seamlessly throughout Two Years will come as no surprise to longtime Rushdie fans. This is, after all, an author who's effortlessly fused religious iconography, ancient mythology, national histories, and contemporary fiction.
The novel opens, for example, with a long meditation on those most fabled of beings, the jinn: "Very little is known, though much has been written, about the true nature of the jinn, the creatures of smokeless fire." What follows is the story about those "creatures of smokeless fire" and their vexed relationship with us mere humans. Immersing us immediately into this world of myth and calling into question the scant information that has fed this very mythology, Rushdie places us in familiar territory (we all know about genies, especially from that most famous of Arabian Nights tales), but not before waving away any knowledge we may think we have. A mere couple of pages later, he sketches out the novel before us: