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‘Fury': Rushdie analyzes N.Y.

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FURY; by Salman Rushdie; Random House, 259 pages; $24.95.

For his eighth novel, Salman Rushdie — famous as the writer who so offended the Ayatollah Khomeini with his book "The Satanic Verses" that he was forced into hiding for more than a decade — has turned to his new home, America. In fact, during the past three years, he has become most familiar with New York.

The book's protagonist is professor Malik Solanka, a 55-year-old academic who leaves teaching in England and abandons his wife and child to start life over again in New York. In some ways, it is a classic immigrant story. But the professor is different from the typical immigrant — he is a Cambridge-educated self-made millionaire originally from Bombay who lands in New York during the summer of 2000, during a time of great prosperity.

The main thing he wants to do is conquer his fury and find peace. But in New York, fury is all around him. We're never sure why Solanka is so troubled, so full of rage, but New York does not seem to help. As he settles into his new life, he finds a vastly different society, a chaotic and strange place that is described in great detail by Rushdie.

It appears that an analysis of 21st century America and New York in particular is Rushdie's goal, and that it comes ahead of the storyline, which is more chaotic and confusing than events in America.

Rushdie provides a merciless, often funny, often tragic gaze into what he regards as shallow but fascinating American culture. Virtually nothing escapes his gaze, including Elian, Tony Soprano, Mariel Hemingway, Woody Allen's movies, the Banana Republic, the human genome, the break-up of Meg and Dennis and the activities of such beautiful women as Naomi Campbell, Angelina Jolie and Christie Brinkley, to name a few.

He pokes fun at the "unlovable presidential candidates "Gush and Bore," Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez, mid-budget feature films, Dennis Rodman — and "the pledge of allegiance to the American Drug." He deplores drugs and sees them as permeating American society, both legally and illegally. Frequently, Rushdie descends into New York gutter language, which he seems to have mastered in a short time. There is a serial "concrete killer" who picks on young, beautiful women, and Solanka is so tragically flawed, he worries that he might be the killer.

As unpleasant as much of it is, it is also often dead on. The reader is liable to feel that this is the best cultural photograph of America since that of Frenchman Alexis de Toqueville, who toured America in the1830s and attempted something similar in his two-volume classic "Democracy in America." But all of the specific references will cause Rushdie's book to appear dated more quickly than Toqueville's.

In spite of the crowds in his new city, Solanka finds "a satisfying anonymity" there.

He is middle-aged, yet he has no problem attracting young, very attractive women. In fact, the most beautiful woman he could imagine falls in love with him. Neela is so gorgeous that she literally stops traffic. "She climbs out of a cab and five cars and two fire trucks screech to a halt."

America, with its "brilliance and its potency, has seduced him." Neela is clearly a symbol of that seduction — someone so dangerous, so powerful, so beautiful and brilliant that it seems she could not exist. And by the end of the book, she doesn't.

E-mail: dennis@desnews.com