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Peer Work

Home  >  Peer Work
Holly's Letter to Salman Rushdie
By Holly Janka
Genre: Non-fiction Level: High School 10-12
Year: 2004 Category: Letters About Literature

Dear Mr. Rushdie,

It was by chance that I came across your book, The Ground Beneath Her Feet. I suppose you could also term it fate, luck, or a number of other expressions depending on your spiritual inclination. I have never been one to ascribe happenings to some nameless "other," and so I hesitate to use the notion here. But the more I think about it, the more I cannot explain how your book found its way to me and how profoundly it pertains to my life in strictly rational terms.

I work in the local library after school. One day while shelving books I found the book blatantly misshelved. Sitting defiantly between books on how to raise an obedient dog, the title stared out at me. I pulled it out and studied the back cover. I found an array of adjectives spinning around the plot details. Romance, I thought, yuck. Rock-and-roll, bleh. I went and shelved it in the correct location.

A few days later, while looking for Ibsen, I spotted a book between shelves, crammed in a purgatory. Only a few pages were visible, but I dug a bit and succeeded in freeing it. You can imagine what book fell into my hands. This time I swam a bit deeper, opening the cover and glancing over the first page. The first few sentences were like a slap in the face. This was not a romance novel. What exactly it was I couldn't tell, and so I delved deeper, trying to place it in a category, but it defied definition. By the time I realized that it wasn't a book that you could put in a specific class, I was too far-gone to care. The wording captured me; the allusions and analogies to the great gods of the past made it seem like a Greek tale itself. I read the words sometimes even more than the story itself, concentrating on the placement of adjectives and the cadence of words.

Even then, I couldn't just sit and read, my report on Solhenitsyn was looming. I returned the book to the shelf. The woman's eyes on the cover, that had until now beckoned seductively, fiercely stared back. She had become angry, hurt. Am I not pretty enough? she seemed to ask. You are giving me up for a bunch of starving Russians? Yes, but I'll come back.

I started reading The Gulag Archipelago intensely, eating whole pages in one gulp. I had incentive now. A warm vibrant India was waiting for me after the cold silent Russia. Slowly but surely I escaped through the prison camps, finally breaking out on to the beaches of Bombay.

As I read the book, my life was facing a monotonous year, trapped in a tangible world where only grades and social standing mattered. This book reaffirmed in me the belief that we can't see everything. In a world that is almost ours, otherworldly things happen, so why not here? I find myself closing one eye, hoping to catch a glimpse of Vina, staring out the windows of planes looking for a rip. Are they out there, sheltered behind an opaque curtain? I would like to think so. Out there, beyond the clouds, who knows what is hidden.

It reinstalled in me the hope of a divine love. Too much American pop culture drowns out higher spirituality. One-night stands and happily ever after endings force us to forget the pure beauty of love. I didn't believe that one could tie in rock and roll with the supernatural power of genuine love, but here you proved me wrong. The music was the soul of the book, the spirit, the basis, the ground.

The characters also fascinated me. I saw myself mirrored in them, both my qualities and shortcomings. In Rai I saw my obsession with time, with split seconds of an era, frozen blinks. In Vina I saw my passionate nature, my differentiation between body and soul. My heart has broken like Persis' when giving others first priority. My sometimes obsessive nature ties me to Ormus, as well as my constant searching of things not here.

As I go about my normal life, I don't feel so outside the frame. I have faith that even in a normal world of corporate skyscrapers and furious genocide, love can still appear and prevail. The drudgery of normality does not swallow the ground beneath my feet. This book has become an affirmation of the world's beauty and the purity of existence.

Holly Janka
12th Grade
Cordova Jr./Sr. High School, Cordova, Alaska
Teacher: Chris Wolfe


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