The six-year-old fatwa, or death sentence, pronounced against Salman Rushdie by the Ayatollah Khomeini may still be in effect, but it has done little to silence the controversial author. East, West is Rushdie's third book since the allegedly blasphemous novel The Satanic Verses was published in 1988.
These nine tales take their cue from subjects Rushdie knows well: the plight of immigrants, exiles and the dispossessed. Whether writing about an Italian, Christopher Columbus, pursuing the Queen of Spain, or an Indian family struggling in 1960s London, Rushdie brings to his stories a playful humor that eases any underlying despair. In "At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers," he views the longing that fills so many lives. "Home," he explains, "has become such a scattered, damaged, various concept in our present travails. There is so much to yearn for."
This uneven collection is best considered as a complete work. Rushdie's imagination is witty, fanciful and delightfully multicultural. He may live in hiding today, but as East, West proves, when he does resurface, his vision is as astute as ever. (Pantheon, $21)