Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Salman Rushdie's "The Duniazát" was originally published in the June 1, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

CV1_TNY_06_01_15Ulriksen.inddThis week’s fiction is from a living legend (though I admit I have had a hard time reading him for some time). From The Page Turner interview with Deborah Treisman we learn that this story is “about a love affair between Ibn Rushd and Dunia, a jinni posing as a young woman.

On the one hand, I’d love to read a story about Averroes. On the other, I really disliked The Enchantress of Florence, in which Rushdie called forth a character based upon Machiavelli.

Looking forward to a good discussion, as always. Please leave your thoughts — or any other comments you might have — below.

Also, Adrienne, who has been commenting here for some time and who blogs at The Story Is Enough (here), is graciously providing her initial response to the story here, above the comments line. Thanks Adrienne! Here she is:


This is the first story by Salman Rushdie I have read, and I was quite enchanted by it. Combining fantasy and historical fiction in this tale about the 12th Century philosopher, Ibn Rushd, “The Duniazát” entertains us as it encourages us to think.

Ibn Rushd is forced into exile for his thoughts, his writings, and must use his fortitude and resources to continue to survive. He becomes a horse trader, a financier, a gardener. He falls in love with a young woman who calls herself Dunia, meaning “the world.” She becomes his lover and his housekeeper. They have many children, for she is quite insatiable. Only the stories he tells, the philosophies he had to abandon, calm her desire. He tells her tales based on former ideas of “reason, logic, and science” and “the inevitability of cause and effect.”

What Ibn Rushd does not know is that Dunia is really a jinni, “pursuing her fascination with human men in general and brilliant ones in particular.” Her most distinctive feature is her lack of earlobes, and all of their children inherit this quality. While she is magic, she, too, is bound by the natural consequences of her choice. Their lives trickle into common, human patterns. Physical intimacy fades, money problems wax, and time and energy for thought is overrun by the presence and clamor of children. Even magic, even miracles, even God must follow natural laws. Reason and religion must be reconciled.

Then Ibn Rushd is called back to court suddenly. His exile is ended. He does not take his children with him, nor Dunia/the jinni. But “she went on loving him, even though he had so casually abandoned her.” Their bastard children, the children of a jinni and a philosopher, wander the earth, “ignorant of their supernatural origins,” adopting every kind of thought out there — some of faith, some of reason — never reconciling the two as Ibn Rushd, their father, had done. Secularism arose.

Using magic to tell the story of the history of thought is fascinating. It is a fairy tale that leaves so much room for thought and reader participation. “The Duniazát” is microcosm, “stories within stories.” Ibn Rushd’s experience mirrors the grander story of all of us: reconciliation between the polarities of thought that compete for our belief and the love affair between fantasy and rational thought. We are the Duniazáts, their children. What beliefs will we choose? Can we live by faith and also by reason? We are limited if we chose just one as the basis of all our thoughts. I know I will keep pondering this story throughout the week. There are so many layers, so many ideas to unravel . . .

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By |2015-05-26T14:22:32+00:00May 25th, 2015|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Salman Rushdie|Tags: |12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett May 26, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Adrienne’s thoughts have been added to the post above :-) .

  2. Roger May 28, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    I admire the rhythm and cadence of Rushdie’s prose here, but the story otherwise left me flat. It is so schematic: reason, logic, and science vs. the supernatural, joining up together in an improbable, and temporary, union. It’s a story that goes straight to the symbolic without doing much at the literal, concrete level. For me, the masterful style only partly compensates for this shortcoming.

  3. lotusgreen May 29, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Back in the day, when one’s once-famed and noted bookstore might be bombed in this man’s name, I read Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and, oddly, reading today’s story my reaction was much the same, if I recall correctly. The man’s way with words and mental dancing and intelligence reeled me in, tight and quickly. How I loved it, as I wiggled my toes and felt something loosen inside.

    But like the book (and I too, Trevor, just have not been drawn to any since then) it met a Wall where one, an author, must, in Rushdie’s form of phrasing, go over it, go under it, go around it, turn back and go the other way, or simply keep standing there. Unfortunately, Rushdie chose the last. All reason, content, meaning, and all those other concepts Rushd (clever choice for subject, no?) claimed and aspired to were lost in a cloud of pretty language, choices, and question marks which never rained, touched down, or blew away, Oh no! He’s got me doing it now.

    At the moment Rushd was re-claimed the story lost ground. No, I mean that literally. It allowed my questions to rush into the foreground from where they’d been stowed, main among them: “what other wordplay am I missing simply because I don’t know all the right people?”

    Now I have to go read all your comments (I started, but stopped part-way into the first. I’m sure they will all be very informative, and I will be corrected in all my errors. Or, as Rushdie would say, or not.)

  4. Trevor Berrett May 29, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Roger, you’re reaction is much like my own reaction to The Enchantress of Florence. There were parts of exquisite beauty that, in the end, didn’t do much below the surface.

    Did folks know this was part of his forthcoming novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights? In Rushdie’s interview with Treisman (here), she says it “envisions a future in which armies of the jinn cross over from Fairyland to our world (for a thousand and one nights) and wreak havoc here.”

  5. lotusgreen May 29, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    No, Trevor. I didn’t realize that. I feel ripped off. Haven’t we been here before? And I’ll bet I can tell you the exact spot where he changed the excerpt to try to make it work as a short story. In my opinion, he failed.

  6. Adrienne May 30, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    When I was in second grade, there was a little boy who was an amazing color-er. (We went to the same college and he went on to become a fantastic artist.) I was not. And as I feared the wrath of the teacher, I lied, saying that his his blue stegosaurus was mine. He never corrected me or tattled. In fact, he took my picture and claimed it as his. (Poor boy – maybe I should have said yes when he asked me out sophomore year…)

    I do not want to claim anyone’s ideas here that are not mine, nor do I want to pull back on my initial reaction due to the comments of others.

    I still say I was enchanted by my first reading – of this story, and Rushdie, in general. Since then, I have read his short stories “In the South” (from the New Yorker) and “The Courter” from somewhere online. AND….

    I found that each story was quite similar to the one before. I felt like i was reading the same story over and over again… and that bored me. You are all right – beautiful language and style, but all the elements were the same from tale to tale. They were all juxtapositions, contrasts of age, gender, country, wealth, culture, national heritage, social class, and truth and fiction. Historical elements are always addressed, cultural images and ideas prominent, and a male protagonist. Internal thoughts and philosophies in a richly drawn landscape…

    I will remember that I enjoyed this first story – The Duniazat – but I will also remember it was NOT a short story, but a piece of a novel. I will also approach Rushdie with less curiosity should I meet up with him again.

  7. Dan June 3, 2015 at 12:43 am

    This is just so depressing. Like so many others, probably, I first read Rushdie when The Satanic Verses inspired that diabolical fatwa. I told a lot of people how much I liked it, many of whom suggested I try Midnight’s Children. I thought that was absolutely brilliant–top 10 books I’ve read. But then it was all downhill. The Moor’s Last Sigh was mediocre, and the excerpt of the Ground Beneath Her Feet that I read in the New Yorker was so bad I just gave up.

    This piece does not change my opinion, I’m afraid. It reads so much like a book excerpt, and not a very good excerpt of what promises to be not a very good book.

    Apparently, the current issue (out here in California, I get the current issue on Thursday) has yet another novel excerpt instead of a real short story–and from Jonathan Franzen, who’s Freedom was one of the worst things I’ve read in 30 years. Yay.

    When is Triesman retiring, again?

  8. lotusgreen June 3, 2015 at 1:31 am

    Good question, Dan. I keep wondering if the fatwa changed him in some irredeemable way.

  9. Dan June 4, 2015 at 12:12 am

    Lily: I never wondered that until this piece, but it is so obviously polemical/allegorical that I think you may be right. Also, embarrassed by my typo (who’s for whose), but I blame my frustration at both Rushdie and the New Yorker/Triesman.

  10. Ken June 9, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    I had trouble finishing this. I thought it was drivel. Not just obvious/schematic but self-aggrandizing. The great poet/philosopher shares the name with our self-important contemporary “genius” Mr. Rushdie. What a fantasy of sexual omnipotence and being such an intellectual titan that despots quake as one dialectically squares reasons and faith. To be crude–it felt masturbatory and narcissistic. Ick.

  11. Lee Monks June 9, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    And Rushdie is no intellectual. He’s never been that.

  12. mollylayton June 13, 2015 at 1:43 am

    I have not read Rushdie before. What struck me was how he set up poles — of ideas, or beliefs, or dilemmas — that vibrated in exciting ways for me. E.g. the story of Scheherazade, who must tell stories to keep the king from murdering her — stories for a thousand and one nights (or as Rushdie puts it, the “Thousand Nights and One Night”). Immediately I felt the chill of Rushdie’s own dilemma, he himself the victim of a murderous ruler, his own storytelling both not protecting him from murder and yet we know that his own Scheherazade-work is also the great source of meaning and sense in his own life. And the notion of stories within stories, complexities we try to describe with our human penchant for narrative, but also that this meaning-making gets lost, forgotten, as the Duniazat spread out into the world, not knowing their own story. There’s a lot to turn around here.

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