Professor Malik Solanka, a man in his mid fifties, scholar and dollmaker extraordinaire, is having a rather belated mid life crisis. “Fury”, which he sees around him, in the rage of destruction, or the fire of creation, overwhelms him suddenly, when he leaves his wife and three year old son in London. He travels to New York, to resolve his existentialist dilemma, but gets entangled in the “fury” of the city, and the people he meets there, in the dawn of the new millennium.
Rushdie’s world is chaotic as ever, his penchant for sarcasm undiminished. There’s also the arbitrary, even whimsical, emerging from time to time. Who would name a character Krzysztof Waterford-Wajda, and mention Kieszlowski in the same book? It seems Rushdie had been into Polish directors at the time of writing the book (Krzysztof Kieslowski and Andrjez Wajda. two of Poland’s most famous directors ).
There are perhaps echoes of his own life in the Solanka character, how he befriends and falls in love with head turning beauty Neela Mahendra in NY. For a while, it is not difficult to put Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi in their shoes.
Things seem to be coming together well in the Rushdie world, the angst of the disenchanted professor, the lunacy of modern living – personification of fury itself, love, incest, sexual obsession, even a little of fashionable anti Americanism here and there. But things really begin to tumble when Rushdie jumps into hyperspace, with Solanka’s venture into the Internet (remember, this book was written around the time of the Internet bubble, talk of cashing in) – with his sci fi dolls and the world of Akasz Kronos, Baburia and what have you. The latter half of the book, as we quickly enter the political crisis in Lilliput-Blefuscu via the imagined life of space age puppets, thus deteriorates into mindless prattle. It is a huge letdown.
There’s no question of Rushdie’s intellect, but when great minds wander, it is not difficult to foresee that illusions of grandeur persist in all. A disgruntled reader begins to question: To whose benefit is the writing, so devoid of the possibilities of social satire or poignant introspection with which it begins, but the kitsch waste into which it eventually degenerates? The outcome is thus the loss of trust between the reader and writer, originating not only from the question of whether the reader has been wasting his precious time behind the book, but whether the writer has been wasting his, disguising something fickle in a seemingly profound package. Whatever the answer, it is certainly not a win-win.