I’ll be upfront and say I haven’t read One Thousand and One Nights (a.k.a Arabian Nights) the collection of Middle Eastern folk tales from which inspires the title and, I’m assuming, the content of Salman Rushdie’s novel Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (do the math). As such, I’m sure there are all sorts of allusions I probably missed in the novel. Even so, I found much to admire in this story, which presents a modern allegory of the ever present tug of war between reason and unreason. It is a particularly powerful read during this current election season.
Here’s the main gist of the tale: a rift has appeared between the thick layers that separate our world from “Peristan” (i.e., the fairy world), and mischievous Jinn (i.e., genies) have seized the opportunity to travel to earth and mostly wreak havoc, save one peculiar princess who has a soft spot for mankind. The Jinn are the personification of irrationality, driven largely by hedonism, violence, and mindless bravado, and thus, wink, are an apt avatar for most people in the news these days. To save mankind, a special tribe of humans must join the aforementioned princess to defeat the Jinn, and thereby restore reason and sanity to the world. Ironically, they must first forgo reason and unleash their own dormant Jinn powers within to do so.
While incredibly thoughtful, the story is also surprisingly fun, which makes it particularly enjoyable. It is told from the perspective of our future descendants, who refer to us as their “ancestors,” which is interesting to think about: how will people 1,000 years from now view this time? In Rushdie’s future society, it turns out all unreason has finally been conquered, leaving everyone to live rational, productive and peaceful lives. So what could be the downside? Well, read it and find out. Suffice to say, we need both the rational and the irrational—reason and unreason—to fully experience life. It’s finding a proper balance that’s the rub.