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The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman…

The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)

by Salman Rushdie

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I read on the back cover of “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” that it is “the best thing ever written about rock and roll.” As a music fan, that was enough for me but I suspected it would be a lot more. After all, it was written by magical realist Salman Rushdie. The story unfolds in Bombay, London, and New York from the 1950s to the 1980s and is infused with Indian and Greek mythology, especially the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Whereas Eurydice was dispatched to Hades by a snake bite, her namesake Vina Apsara is swallowed by an earthquake in Mexico. Thus, the ground beneath our feet is anything but stable. In fact, earthquakes are portrayed as cracks in our existence that serve as intersections with other co-existing worlds, such as the one Ormus Camas (Orpheus’ namesake in the novel) sees from one eye after his auto accident.

The novel is full of puns and allusions. For a fan of classic rock and roll, these musical allusions can be entertaining. Speaking of a minor character, Rushdie says, “while Waldo was now capable of only the simplest, most innocent insights about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and the sky up above …” Right, got it, Jewel Akens had #3 hit with that one in February 1965. The world in the novel is slightly off kilter from our own – for example, JFK lives when Oswald’s gun jams, Watergate is pulp fiction; we have the famous war novel Catch-18 and the musical duo of Carly Simon and Guinevere Garfunkel. Is Sir Darius Xerxes Cama’s butler Gieve meant to evoke PG Wodehouse’s man Jeeves? Most of the classical allusions (especially the Eastern ones) were lost on me, and after a while the allusions get a bit oppressive.

At its most basic level, the story is about a love triangle. The members of this doomed trio are the eventual rock stars Vina Apsara and Ormus Cama and their photographer and non-musical friend Umeed (“Rai”) Merchant who serves as the narrator of the story. Both Ormus and Rai have fallen in love with the half-Greek, half-Indian beauty Vina when they first see her. Nine-year-old Rai, on Juhu Beach, emerges from the water with his braces “smarting” to find 14-year-old Vina in her American flag swimsuit. Nineteen-year-old Ormus also meets Vina in 1956 at the Rhythm Center store in Bombay where Persis Kalamanja (a girl who is hoping to impress him) takes him to hear the new American record “Heartbreak Hotel.” Ormus has bounded out of the listening booth (are you old enough to remember those, such as in Wallach’s Music City?) furious that someone “stole his song.” Ormus owes his compositional skills to his dead twin brother Gayomart who channels future American rock and roll hits to Ormus exactly 1,001 days before they are released. Vina has an amazing voice. The duo becomes the world’s most famous rock group, called VTO for “Vina To Ormus” or “V-to” meaning “we two” in “Hug-me” (Rusdie’s acronym for “Hindi Urdu Gujarati Marathi English”) or Pynchon’s V2 rocket or several other possibilities.

Some things in the book remind me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (such as the tequila running down the street – intoxicating everything in its path – during the earthquake in the first chapter) and John Irving (the shenanigans of Piloo Doodhwala and his magnifcentourage, the events that plague the Merchant and Camas families). Our hero Ormus, like Elvis Presley (known as Jesse Garon Parker in the novel), comes into the world with a dead twin and leaves the world like John Lennon (shot in the street by a deranged fan).

For the most part, the book is great fun, but all of the erudition can weigh it down at points. As James Woods says in his June 21, 2001 review in the New Republic, “the interpolation of passages of erudition leads us uncomfortably away from the novelistic creation that is Rushdie the joyous writer to the much feebler man called Salman Rushdie, balancing his dog-eared copy of [Plato’s] Symposium on his knees somewhere in London or Long Island and tapping chunks of it into his word processor. Postmodernism, it seems, only knows this strange clumsy way of beefing itself up intellectually. Like a man who takes so many classes that he has no time to read, postmodernism's very ambition, at such moments, threatens the novel.” To some extent all of these allusions seem to be a device designed to validate the intellect of the reader who recognizes them, but in the end such validation is hollow and doesn’t provide any humanistic insight. Still, like the back cover suggests, if you like rock and roll you’ll find it hard to dislike this novel. ( )
  sdibartola | Dec 9, 2014 |
I am a real fan of Salman Rushdie and have read with enjoyment most all of his books. I listened (or tried) to this book on audible and could not get through it. It is very long and at about half way I gave up; so it may not be fair for me to give it a rating but....
I found that Rushdie rambled and that lots of the parts seemed irrelevant to the main story. Even though the Satanic Verses was long and had many characters I found them all interesting; and although I did have to listen to it three times I enjoyed each time. I could not enjoy The Ground Beneath Her Feet or get interested in the characters. I also did not find it at all funny though as a rule I love Rushdie's humor.
It could be that the main problem with this book for me was that I intensely disliked the narrator. The narrator (I kindly do not remember his name) spoke with a British (?) accent and he was portraying Indian characters. I found this very unpleasant and disorienting.
I shall read other reviews and find out why others liked it. I did not. ( )
  padmajoy | Sep 8, 2014 |
Another amazing novel by Rushdie. This one is a modern day version of the Greek myth about Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus, a musician, and Eurydice, a nymph were happily married when Eurydice steps on a poisonous snake and dies. Grieving Orpheus plays such sad and mournful music that the gods tell him to go to the Underworld and bring her back. He is told that he must not look back. He goes to retrieve her, but hearing her cries of anguish, he turns around and she is lost forever. In this modern day version, Orpheus is played by Ormus Cama, an Indian rock star, and Eurydice is Vina Aspara a pop American singer who leads a wild and decadent life - more of a nymphomaniac than a nymph. As with all of Rushdie's books, the prose is incredibly dense and he throws in many subtle allusions to modern day culture, current events, and the overall music industry. I love reading his books, but by the end of this book, I felt like I just completed a college course in the music industry with a touch of Greek mythology thrown in. Brilliant and exhausting. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
I either love or hate Salman Rushdie. This book comes into the second category.

I'll never finish this book nor Haroun and the Sea of Stories, nor the Satanic Verses. Life is too short to plough through more than the first 50 pages if you haven't got into it by that stage. On the other though, I will probably reread Shame and Midnight's Children once in a while, I loved those books. ( )
  Petra.Xs | Apr 2, 2013 |
I think Rushdie can be a bit daunting sometimes because he's really an intellectual through and through. He fills his writing with countless references to mythology and history in a way that I find rewarding but some may find difficult. Rushdie creates the story of a band and music that grows to epic proportions. We follow the story of Rai, a photographer who falls precariously in love with Vina in India while still very much a boy. He basically devotes his whole life to Vina and the language is so strong that by the end, you forget that these characters really are fictional and didn't exist. Ormus, who Vina is also in love with, immediately recalls Freddie Mercury of the band Queen, who has many similarities. The other really engaging thing about this novel is following the characters, especially Rai from India to England to America. The only weakness is how it ends but I can forgive Rushdie this error as the rest of the writing in the novel is incredibly strong. This was the second time I read this one. ( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
"Instead of turning the Orpheus legend into a compelling postmodern myth, Rushdie has simply freighted an old story with his favorite themes and the random detritus of our current celebrity culture. In trying to write what he has called "an everything novel," he has produced a strangely hollow book, a book that lacks both the specificity and the magic that have enlivened his best work in the past. "
added by GYKM | editNew York Times, Michiko Kakutani (Apr 13, 1999)
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"Set up no stone to his memory:

Just let the rose bloom each year for his sake.

For it is Orpheus. His metamorphosis

into this and that. We should not trouble

about other names. Once and for all

it's Orpheus when there's singing."

~ R [ainer] M[aria] Rilke _Sonnets To Orpheus_ translated by M.D. Herter Norton
For Milan
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On St. Valentine’s Day, 1989, the last day of her life, the legendary popular singer Vina Aspara woke sobbing from a dream of human sacrifice in which she had been the intended victim.
The photographer must be a thief, must steal instants of other people's time to make his own tiny eternities.
In the end, there's always an honest Injun somewhere, if you can find him. Even in Inja.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312254997, Paperback)

The ground shifts repeatedly beneath the reader's feet during the course of Salman Rushdie's sixth novel, a riff on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in the high-octane world of rock & roll. Readers get their first clues early on that the universe Rushdie is creating here is not quite the one we know: Jesse Aron Parker, for example, wrote "Heartbreak Hotel"; Carly Simon and Guinevere Garfunkel sang "Bridge over Troubled Water"; and Shirley Jones and Gordon McRae starred in "South Pacific." And as the novel progresses, Rushdie adds unmistakable elements of science fiction to his already patented magical realism, with occasionally uneven results.

Rushdie's cunning musician is Ormus Cana, the Bombay-born founder of the most popular group in the world. Ormus's Eurydice (and lead singer) is Vina Apsara, the daughter of a Greek American woman and an Indian father who abandoned the family. What these two share, besides amazing musical talent, is a decidedly twisted family life: Ormus's twin brother died at birth and communicates to him from "the other side"; his older brothers, also twins, are, respectively, brain-damaged and a serial killer. Vina, on the other hand, grew up in rural West Virginia where she returned home one day to find her stepfather and sisters shot to death and her mother hanging from a rafter in the barn. No wonder these two believe they were made for each other.

Narrated by Rai Merchant, a childhood friend of both Vina and Ormus, The Ground Beneath Her Feet begins with a terrible earthquake in 1989 that swallows Vina whole, then moves back in time to chronicle the tangled histories of all the main characters and a host of minor ones as well. Rushdie's canvas is huge, stretching from India to London to New York and beyond--and there's plenty of room for him to punctuate this epic tale with pointed commentary on his own situation: Muslim-born Rai, for example, remarks that "my parents gave me the gift of irreligion, of growing up without bothering to ask people what gods they held dear.... You may argue that the gift was a poisoned chalice, but even if so, that's a cup from which I'd happily drink again." Despite earthquakes, heartbreaks, and a rip in the time-space continuum, The Ground Beneath Her Feet may be the most optimistic, accessible novel Rushdie has yet written. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:44 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The romance of two Indian musicians who form a band. He is Ormus, a composer, she is Vina, an American-raised singer, and their romance plays out across continents, parallel universes and different lives-- she dying and returning for a second life.

» see all 4 descriptions

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