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Arabian Nightmare. BOOKS

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THE SATANIC VERSES by Salman Rushdie. New York:, Viking. 547 pp. $19.95.

WITH all that's happened - Muslim demonstrations, bannings and book burnings, a death-sentence from Ayatollah Khomeini - ``The Satanic Verses'' has begun to look prophetic. That's remarkable, if only because at first sight it's a savage satire of the very idea of prophecy, or the utterance, by man, of truth with a capital T.

The concept behind the book is simple: A plane from Bombay is blown up over the English Channel by terrorists. The only survivors are two media types from India, an actor and a voice-over artist.

The city they fall into, modern London, is the polyglot, multiracial sinkhole of the British Empire. The impact of their fall affects the two differently and even paradoxically. The mild voice-over artist is transformed into a devilish looking goat, while the macho actor, who specializes in portraying deities in the Indian pantheon, is encouraged to think of himself as a messenger of God.

This concept controls with varying degrees of success an enormous amount of detail drawn from contemporary London and Islamic tradition.

The constantly shifting point of view rarely gets outside the alienated consciousness whose symbol and wand is the TV remote-control stick. The ``tortured metropolis'' of London is seen as a ``composite video monster.'' The language of the characters and the book ranges from ``smart-alec Bombay English'' to parodies of the holy book of Islam, the Koran. This book about exile is drenched in fear and anxiety. ``Paranoia,'' Rushdie writes, ``for the exile, is the prerequisite of survival.''


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