Salman Rushdie,
The Ground Beneath Her Feet
(Henry Holt and Co., 1999)

Written on a scale of epic, even immortal, proportions, The Ground Beneath Her Feet is a story of love, death and rock 'n' roll. This skillfully crafted tale of higher, though wholly earthly, love is Salman Rushdie's seventh novel. Writing in a manner both seductively insidious and entirely moving, Rushdie draws the readers into an alternate reality to our own and lets the power of the narrative wash over us. The author keeps the story gritty and real while imbuing it with a sense of the mystic and of an otherness that is believable and in no way alien to the reader.

Recounted by the photographer Rai, The Ground Beneath Her Feet is the story of Vina Apsara and Ormus Cama, 20th century rock stars and pop icons. After Vina's untimely death in an earthquake, Rai, her backdoor man for years and life-long friend to both Vina and Ormus, sets out to tell their immortal story, in which, he claims "his own love's mortal tale is nowhere to be heard." "Vina significat humanitatem," he says; it was Vina who was the sign of our humanity.

Starting with the last day of Vina's life, the shadows of love and death hang over the novel. From there to Bombay of the 1950s, Rai's narrative unravels nearly a half-century of pop culture through the turbulent careers and the love story of Vina Apsara, named for Venus, and Ormus Cama, refering to Kama, god of love. Theirs is a love steeped in music and disaster; they are not unlike two planets holding a deadly course in the same sphere, laying waste to things in their path, whether lovers or admirers. From their first meeting in a Bombay record shop, Vina's beautiful, spellbinding voice awakened the musical genius lying dormant in Ormus Cama. With these early beginnings they would go on to form the band VTO, which would become one of the world's greatest rock bands, and begin the story of a love of dizzying complication. From Bombay to the U.K., to America, rock 'n' roll brings Ormus and Vina together. Leaving their roots behind them, they embrace music.

Ormus and Vina's relationship reflects a higher kind of love of an almost divine magnitude, re-enacting Orpheus and Eurydice, Kama and Rati. They remain lover and beloved through conflict, separation, Ormus's years of sworn chastity and Vina's promiscuity. In the shadow of this abiding love is Rai's own story. He is the one lover Vina has kept secret, yet second always to Ormus.

Combining the historical and mythological with mainstream 20th century pop culture, Rushdie has created a novel of earthy, dark beauty, rendering love on an immortal scale both believable and real. Aptly defined, The Ground Beneath Her Feet is "a love story that will rock the world."

(I fervently recommend listening to U2's "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" (lyrics by Salman Rushdie, music by U2) in conjunction with the reading of the novel!)

[ by Melinda Lau ]

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