I have always liked Salman Rushdie from the time I read Midnight's children last year. What I really appreciate is that he established European sensibilities in Indian novel, that resulted the reading of Indian novel to be taken seriously by the intelligentsia throughout the world. It is arguable whether any other Indian novelist has seriously pursued the way opened up by Rushdie. Late Malayalam novelist O V Vijayan has written something in a similar vein, but writing in a regional language has its own limitations and is always under appreciated.
East, West by Rushdie is a collection of nine short stories, divided into three sections, East, West and East West. As the name indicates, the story telling in each section is in the respective styles and in the final one you can find the real genius of the author, when he treads the middle way where the story telling of Scheherazade and Panchatantra meets that of Boccaccio and Shakespeare.
In section East, the first story is called Good advice is rarer than rubies, in which a defrauder falls for a lady whom he tries to cheat off her money. In the story Free Radio, the government's attempt of compulsory family planning at the times of Emergency is portrayed. In the last story The prophet's hair, a strand of prophet Mohammed's hair that goes stolen creates trouble in a wealthy family. All the stories, though very subtly are social satires told in a very simple language in true eastern story telling tradition.
In the section West, the first story Yorick is a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, giving it a twist. Second story, At the auction of ruby slippers, refers to the slippers of Dorothy in The wizard of Oz. Third one, Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship, is a fictional account of Christopher Columbus' advances to Queen Isabella before he was commissioned for his historic journey.
Third section, East West, has also three stories, that I feel is the best in the collection. The Harmony of Spheres is a journey into the head of a schizophrenic and his occult journeys. Chekov and Zulu is a satiric take on star wars and the position of third world countries. It also subtly refers the death of Indira Gandhi and the repercussions on Sikh community after that.The Courter, the best one in the collection is a story about the relation between an old Ayah, Certainly-Marie and the courtier, Mecir, who happens to be a chess grand master in exile!
Satire is the tone of most of the stories and what takes the breath out of an unsuspecting reader is the astonishing range of plots, techniques and conventions that Rushdie employs in his story telling. A must read...