The Ground Beneath Her Feet

“In love one advances by retreating.”

Salman Rushdie’s musical opus, The ground beneath her feet, is one of a few select books that I want to slip into my friends’ backpacks, or hide in their bookshelf, or scatter copies under their beds until they must eventually concede. Later they’ll be reading on the train or on the road or under the sea only to find themselves basking in its warmth; The ground beneath her feet is a book that lets you drink bountiful, replenishing slurps from its innards wherever you are.

So much of the book is about belonging, whether or not that’s within the universe of art or society at large. Each character hopes to find where they belong and who they belong with:

We find ground on which to make our stand. In India, that place obsessed by place, belonging-to-your-place, we are mostly given that territory, and that’s that, no arguments, get on with it. But Ormus and Vina and I, we couldn’t accept that, we came loose. Among the great struggles of man—good/evil, reason/unreason, etc.—there is also this mighty conflict between the fantasy of Home and the fantasy of Away, the dream of roots and the mirage of the journey.

An excerpt from Rushdie’s autobiography is what led me to it a while ago, and it’s here that he describes the objectives of his work and how this idea of belonging ties into all of his books in one way or another:

There was a novel growing in him, but its exact nature eluded him. It would be a big book, he knew that, ranging widely over space and time. A book of journeys. That felt right. He had dealt, as well as he knew how, with the worlds from which he had come. Now he needed to connect those worlds to the very different world in which he had made his life. He was beginning to see that this, rather than India or Pakistan or politics or magic realism, would be his real subject, the one he would worry away at for the rest of his career: the great question of how the world joins up—not only how the East flows into the West and the West into the East but how the past shapes the present even as the present changes our understanding of the past, and how the imagined world, the location of dreams, art, invention, and, yes, faith, sometimes leaks across the frontier separating it from the “real” place in which human beings mistakenly believe they live.

Salman Rushdie, New Yorker