When I was given the “R” title in the Penguin Drop Caps series I really had no idea what to expect. I was delighted by the rich azure cover, the cobalt page edges and the swirly gold cover initial embellished with an Indian motif, but all I knew about Salman Rushdie was based on an ad campaign in the Toronto subway system promoting some new book of his and the news that Muslim clerics had issued a fatwa against him. Because of the subway ads I assumed he was a Canadian writer. And because of the scary-sounding fatwa against his book The Satanic Verses I assumed he was promoting some kind of paganism that was offensive to Muslims. Wrong and wrong again.
Would you read a book about the right to die by someone who committed suicide five years afterward? A colleague handed me this book as he was cleaning off his desk for the summer and said I’d enjoy it. Since I had loved his recommendation of Le gone du Chaâba by Azouz Begag, I decided to push past my initial distaste of the front cover (two naked figures—a child sitting on a woman’s lap—with stones for heads and black dots for navels) and my confusion about the back page description: “The story of a little Arab boy’s love for an old Jewish woman”. Love, like romantic love, I wondered?
But not three pages in, I was hooked. The characters, the setting, the first-person narration, the symbolism and the surprising ending make it obvious why this novel won the Prix Goncourt in 1975 for “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”.