By: Madeline Usher

TITLE:Luka and the Fire of Life
Author: Salman Rushdie

How much affliction can God mete out to one poor soul? I ask you this, dear Friends in the hopes that you will assure me my suffering will end soon. Since last we met to discuss our literary pursuits, my pitiable situation had seemed to have improved. Roderick went to see a new doctor in London and that good gentleman prescribed a vigorous program of exercise and diet that was credited with calming the nerves and removing evil humors from the blood.

For several weeks, my brother exhibited marked improvement. We were able to meet and interact as loving brother and sister once again and I felt that, perhaps, my trials were at an end. Alas! My felicitations were short lived. One evening last week, during dinner, Roderick began to behave erratically. He upset the soup tureen and then turned a knife on our old butler, Hubert.

The poor old dear was frightened out of his wits and fled from the house with Roderick chasing him down the lane, shrieking like a banshee. An hour later, Roderick returned with a wild look in his eyes and stated that I was the cause of his dissolution of sanity. That I must be destroyed ere I destroyed him. Thus he chased me about the house until I was nearly dead from exhaustion and wound up locked in my library. I’ve been here since.

After my heart had ceased to gallop and I felt a little more myself, I sifted through my, as yet, unread volumes to find a little amusement and distraction. My first find was called Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie. What delight I found in Mr. Rushdie’s writing! Indeed, he so engrossed me that I found it possible to ignore Roderick’s raving cries as he tramped through the house.

The story revolves around a young boy named Luka Khalifa, who lives with his mother, father, and older brother in a town called Kahani. Some of you might be familiar with this family if you have read Mr. Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories. In this tale, however, Luka’s father, Rashid, has fallen into an enchanted sleep after Luka cursed a diabolical circus master. Upon discovering—from Death himself, no less--that his father is dying, Luka undertakes a perilous journey through The Magical World to steal the Fire of Life and save his father.

The Magical World is alive with strange creatures such as the Badly Behaved Gods, giant talking rats, translating squirrels, and elephant fish. Luka befriends many of these beings and they assist his quest. Others are not so accommodating and throw up the most unusual set of defenses to prevent him from stealing the Fire of Life and taking it back to the Real World.

Mr. Rushdie paints his characters with colorful strokes. Luka is an average boy and yet, he also possesses a certain quality that many readers will identify with—that quality is love. He loves Rashid so dearly that is willing to forsake his own life in order to save his father’s. Love drives Luka to discover strengths and abilities he never knew he had.

Some will detect echoes of other delightful books such as The Odyssey, American Gods, The Phantom Tollbooth, A Horse and His Boy, The Neverending Story, and others, though Luka’s story is entirely unique.

After leaving the Khalifa family, it was still not safe to venture from my asylum, therefore, I took up another book. This was not penned in recent years but actually was written by American, Charles Portis in 1968: True Grit.

Those who are familiar with the two books I am discussing here will notice that both involve father-child relationships. I suppose I am missing my own loving Papa most sorely right now. He would certainly protect me from my brother’s insanities if he were still alive. Ah well!

True Grit concerns, not a child’s desperate attempt to save a father’s life, but rather to avenge that father’s murder. Mattie Ross’ father was gunned down by his employee Tom Chaney while the two men were on a business trip in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Upon hearing the news and that Chaney fled after the murder to Indian territory, Mattie sets out to bring the murderer to justice. Her plan involves hiring a rascal of a United States Marshal named Rooster Cogburn—a man with “grit.”

What follows is an unsentimental, though highly moving, adventure set in the last days of America’s Wild West. Mr. Portis spins his tale without flash or literary fat. His prose is simple, audacious, and thoroughly absorbing.

Mattie Ross cuts a heroic figure as it becomes clear that the title of the book does not refer to Rooster Cogburn alone. His young employer has grit of her own and exhibits tremendous determination, intelligence, and courage as she faces down bloodthirsty bandits, snakes, cheeky Texas Rangers, and, finally, Tom Chaney himself.

Fast-paced and full of action, True Grit is a classic of American writing and a satisfying addition to my library.

Well, Friends, that is all I have time for now. My maid, Agatha, is scratching at the door, which means she was able to sneak here with some food and water. Until next time, I wish you good reading and safe travels.

About the Columnist

In a gloomy North England mansion, the lady Madeline Usher lives with her brother, Roderick. They are the last of their once great family, the Ushers, noted through the ages as artists and philanthropists. Indeed, Madeline is a writer and celebrated vocalist, often singing the musical pieces composed by Roderick.
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