Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie

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Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: This follow up to the 1990 Haroun and the Sea of Stores finds 12 year old Luka on a computer game style quest in the land of magic and stories to steal the life-giving Fire of Life and return it to save his ailing father in the real world. Funny and magical in equal measure this is a more literary challenging young adult offering that will appeal to the young and the young at heart.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 216 Date: June 2011
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099555322

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Back in 1990, Salman Rushdie followed up his controversial 'Satanic Verses' with a book dedicated to his then nine year old son, Zafar, called 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories'. Now, his second son, Milan, finally gets a book of his own, although he had to wait until he was 13 for his father to get around to it. 'Luka and the Fire of Life' is very much a follow up to 'Haroun' and it is certainly helpful, although not necessary, if you have read that book as many of the events in the first book are referred to here.

The eponymous Luka is Haroun's younger brother who complains that he has not had an adventure like Haroun's but when their father, the great story-teller and wonderfully described as the 'Shah of Blah' falls ill, 12 year old Luka gets his chance. Along with his companions, a dog called Bear and a bear called Dog, Luka finds himself in the imaginary world of his father's stories and, like all good fables, he has a quest: to steal the Fire of Life and return with it to save his ailing father. Full of magical characters, including the queen of the Otters, the Insultana of Ott (who is given to insulting people) and two elephant ducks - it's that sort of world - Luka is variously helped and hindered on his way in equal measure.

As often with Rushdie, the book is full of clever wordplay - the Insultana gives Luka some potatoes at one point to use with the Fire of Life: what do these then become? Ott Potatoes of course. For me, this is what makes Luka and the companion book, Haroun, so interesting. They fall into what would normally be called Young Adult fiction - ie suitable for ages from about 10 upwards but equally not too embarrassing to be seen reading for grown ups in public. Much of that genre tends to be plot-heavy but as you might expect with Rushdie, this is an all together more literary offering. Rushdie divides opinion and I know of some 12 year olds who would love this but some who would hate the more wordy style. Equally I know grown ups who would be similarly divided with some feeling that the author does rather like the sound of his own voice a little too much. Personally, I love this style and believe that it is good to have more challenging styles for young adults. If they enjoy this, there's a good chance they will grow to appreciate literature rather than just good stories.

There's a lot that feels very personal to Rushdie and his relationship with his sons. Not least given that his second son arrived rather late in Rushdie's life, there is concern for the death of a loved, story-telling father. But there's also a lot of things that I would imagine are there purely for his son. Part of the story is affected by Luka being left handed. I don't know, but it's a fair bet that Milan is also left handed.

In amongst all the clever wordplay and fantastical images, Rushdie has also provided a computer game approach to the story. Luka has to 'save' his story at various points and has a certain number of 'lives' with which to complete his task. Again, I have no knowledge, but it's a fair bet that Milan loves computer games (although that would be true of most 13 year olds to be fair). I can see the merit of this approach, and it will doubtless appeal to some younger readers, but I preferred the more straightforward approach of Haroun to this. That said, it was a tough act to follow for me as Haroun is my second favourite Rushdie book, after Midnight's Children.

Book jacket quotes are always best taken with a strong dose of salt, but here the publishers have cleverly used quotations from young readers (aged 8 to 13) rather than critics which I think is an excellent idea and one that is far more useful to potential buyers.

Our thanks to the kind people at Vintage Books for inviting us to journey into this magical world.

If you enjoyed this journey, then you will probably also enjoy Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman. There's only one way to find out ...

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Buy Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie at


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