In My Hands Today…

The Ground Beneath Her Feet – Salman Rushdie

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.”

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