The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses Summary and Analysis of Part V - "A City Visible but Unseen"


Chapter 1

The story returns to contemporary London.

Jumpy Joshi, guilty over his adultery, wants to take care of Saladin. He gives Saladin a coat to cover his horns, and brings him to the nearby Shaandaar Cafe, a restaurant and hotel, for help. There, he asks the proprietor, Muhammad Sufyan, to house Saladin, who is becoming more panicked about his transformation. The Sufyan family agrees to help by housing him in their attic room.

The narrator gives some background about the Sufyan matriarch, Hind Sufyan (not to be confused with Hind, Abu Simbel’s wife in the Jahilia plot). She sees her husband Muhammad as an effeminate weakling. She also resents the fact that they had to move to London because of Muhammad’s involvement with the Bengali Communist party. She is especially resentful that she has to manage the business, attracting customers with her excellent cooking, while he remains ineffectual.

The Sufyans do their best to help Saladin – indeed, the two teenage daughters, Anahita and Mishal Sufyan, are delighted by his transformation. However, Saladin remains silently frustrated to be helpless before people who are ‘not British.’ He has nightmares about Hyacinth Phillips, and about his wife’s affair with Jumpy. The next morning, he calls his old colleague, Mimi Mamoulian, and is dismayed to hear both that he’s been replaced at his television job on the alien show, and that Mimi is dating Billy Battuta, a notorious playboy and scam artist. Saladin calls his producer, Hal Valance, who confirms that he has indeed been dropped from the show – because, he says, audiences prefer white actors.

Hind loves to read imported magazines about Bollywood, and she one day she reads an article that reports Gibreel Farishta is returning to the screen. When she mentions it to Saladin, he becomes enraged – he still resents how Gibreel refused to help him when he was arrested. Oddly, his rage shrinks his horns and his penis; soon afterwards, the transformation recommences and he resumes his goat shape. In fact, his horns, tail and body continue to grow.

Within a few weeks, Gibreel’s film deal falls through because the film's producer, Billy Battuta, is arrested for fraud along with Mimi. Meanwhile, Mishal Sufyan starts an affair with Hanif Johnson, a well-to-do lawyer who lives at the Shaandaar Cafe, while Saladin’s wife Pamela leads a public investigation into allegations of witchcraft being practiced by police officers. Pamela also becomes pregnant, with Jumpy Joshi's child. She refuses to believe that her husband is still alive, and to accept that the goat is in fact him.

Jumpy and the Sufyans all keep silent about Saladin’s transformation. Nevertheless, people all over London begin having dreams of a goatlike devil wreaking havoc. The image of “the Goatman” begins to appear everywhere, from commercials to political protests, and young people of color begin to embrace it as a symbol of rebellion (295). This movement, along with a gruesome serial killer known only as the Granny Ripper, gives the police a pretext to harass the immigrant community.

Things come to a head when Hind finds out about Mishal Sufyan’s affair with Hanif the lawyer. She is enraged; at the same time, she and Muhammad are fighting because he has found out she regularly overcharges their customers at the café. In the middle of the massive argument that ensues, Saladin storms out of his room, now eight feet tall, naked, and breathing sulphuric smoke. The Sufyans realize they can no longer host Saladin in his current form, so Mishal contacts her friend Pinkwalla, who works as a nightclub deejay. Pinkwalla arranges for Saladin to sleep in the basement of the Hot Wax club, a popular South Asian hang-out owned by John Maslama. That night, Saladin is once again consumed with fury at Gibreel for betraying him. This rage transforms back into a human, although the change is very painful.

Chapter 2

We learn a bit about Alleluia Cone’s youth. Her father (Otto Cone) survived a concentration camp in World War II, so he eschewed his native Poland and threw himself into becoming English. Her older sister Elena was a supermodel who eventually died of a drug overdose. Although the girls tried to maintain a relationship, they had little in common, and they grew apart after Allie lost her virginity and Elena reacted angrily to the news.

We also learn that Alleluia is not entirely well. When scaling Everest along with a helper, she decided to climb the highest peak without her oxygen mask. Perhaps because of the ensuing brain damage, she has begun to see the ghost of Maurice Wilson, the yogi who died in a solo ascent, throughout London. The spectre tempts her to try her own solo ascent, while also implicitly promising she will die in the attempt. She does not confess these sightings to anyone.

Gibreel’s plotline picks up where it left off – he has collapsed on Alleluia’s doorstep. He moves in with her. Their sex life is fantastic, but the arrangement has its tensions: Gibreel is a slob, he speaks rudely to Alleluia’s friends, and he is prone to fits of jealous rage. Alleluia, for her part, is skittish about love and worries that the relationship is moving too fast. Her concerns are exacerbated by her mother, Alicja Cone, who is quite vocal about her dislike for the relationship.

The biggest problem, though, is Gibreel’s belief that he is the Angel of the Recitation (the most important archangel in the Muslim canon, who delivered God’s word to Muhammad). One night, an angel visits Gibreel and tells him to leave Alleluia so he can spread the word of God through London. He complies, and leaves after a fight. Alleluia is distraught.

Gibreel wanders the city trying to save people, but they all think him insane. Rekha Merchant’s ghost appears to him, mocking his ineffectiveness; she also warns him that Alleluia is secretly trying to get pregnant. One day, Gibreel meets Orphia Phillips (Hyacinth’s sister, although Gibreel does not realize the connection to Saladin). Although she is skeptical of Gibreel’s claims, she confides in him about her co-worker and lover, Uriah Moseley, who abandoned her for another woman. Gibreel puts his hands on Orphia and heals her, and they together confront Uriah. However, Uriah has proposed to his new girlfriend, Rochelle Watkins, and Orphia gets in trouble when her boss sees her with Gibreel. She angrily reprimands him for his interference.

Rekha appears to Gibreel again, and offers to return his sanity if he admits he loves her. Gibreel declines because he still feels beholden to his mission. However, he grows progressively more frustrated when no one listens to him; finally, he fantasizes that he has grown to gargantuan proportions, and he steps onto the cars.

Of course, he has not grown, and he is hit by the car of S.S. Sisodia, an Indian film producer. Sisodia recognizes Gibreel, and he and Alleluia bring the actor to a psychiatric hospital, where he is treated for schizophrenia. Soon, Sisodia arranges for Gibreel to star in a trilogy of religious films in which he will play the archangel Gibreel. Alleluia objects that the association will be detrimental to Gibreel's mental health, but Gibreel accepts the job anyway.

To promote the films, Gibreel agrees to headline a dance show in London, although his identity is kept secret – he is a surprise ‘Dark Star.’ He dresses as an angel and is lowered onto the stage, but when the fans rush the stage, he levitates into the air and disappears. He enjoys flying over London, and ponders the city’s best and worst qualities. Suddenly, he has a vision of Saladin Chamcha as a demon, and passes out. When he wakes, he is again on Alleluia’s doorstep.


In this section, Rushdie makes many of the novel’s political themes explicit. Although the previous chapters have addressed the immigrant experience in some detail, “A City Visible but Unseen” highlights the frustration and rage that many immigrant youths feel in a society that excludes them. When Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses in 1989, the United Kingdom had long been relatively liberal in its treatment of minorities. However, the influx of immigrants from India and Africa was still a relatively new phenomenon, and this was causing tensions with natives. This tension was most apparent in London, which is and was a hub for new immigrants. Although these new British citizens had the same rights and privileges as natives, many felt excluded from English culture. In the novel, these tensions come to a head when the image of Saladin as a goat-man becomes a symbol of immigrant frustration.

Although Saladin himself eschews his Indian identity, his experiences illustrate some of the prejudices that ‘brown people’ experienced as newcomers in England. Although he is a British citizen and has lived there since he was thirteen, the police officers do not believe he is a citizen, and beat him mercilessly. Although the police officers treat Gibreel a bit better, he also experiences racism when he encounters a pamphleteer distributing anti-immigrant materials. On a slightly more benign note, Part V also shows evidence of cultural segregation; the Sufyans seem to associate exclusively with other South Asian immigrants, and Alleluia’s mother makes several racist comments about her daughter’s relationship with Gibreel.

Further, Rushdie begins to sow seeds of the violence that cultural unrest can engender. When the minorities take the goat-man symbol to support their cause, the police begin to prepare for impending violence, ironically using their own violence to suppress it. Likewise, the mystery of the Granny Killer exacerbates racial tensions, as do Pamela's accusations of witchcraft amongst the police. While Rushdie keeps his amused tone throughout, the grounded reality of racial and cultural unrest does make its way into this section.

Cultural and economic exploitation also become important concepts in Part V. On page 270, Mimi acknowledges that her new boyfriend Billy Battuta is exploiting her, valuing her primarily because she is white. However, Mimi views this kind of exploitation as a fact of life, to be acknowledged and accepted. Her worldview is very different from Saladin’s; he rarely thinks critically about the relationship between cultures, and when he does, he makes a point of denigrating Indian culture as much as possible. What both have in common is that they define themselves in a binary fashion - either by what they are or are not, rather than considering their identity as singular, full of particular contradictions and qualities.

The issue of cultural exploitation is most prominent in Chapter 1; in Chapter 2, we witness economic exploitation when Gibreel’s producer, S.S. Sisodia, urges him to return to work despite his fragile mental condition. Sisodia even capitalizes on Gibreel’s delusion by casting him as the angel Gibreel in a new film trilogy. Naturally, cultural and economic exploitation go hand in hand, particularly in the historical relationship between Great Britain and India. Although Gibreel’s exploitation at the hands of Sisodia has little apparent connection to geopolitics, it does demonstrate the problems that arise when a people try to capitalize on their identities – whether it’s Mimi using her whiteness to attract Billy, or Gibreel using his mental illness to boost his film profits. Gibreel, as we see, is actually an extremely complicated personality, whose masks as actor bleed into his own cultural and economic particulars. However, he is forced to cement an identity by commoditizing it into a film role. He is letting his rather fantastical personality become binary. While religious themes continue to resonate here - through both Saladin and Gibreel's transformations - they become subsumed to the cultural and political themes. Saladin's hatred of Gibreel cedes his religious transformation, while Gibreel happily trades his angelic personality for a prospective return to secular stardom.

It is also worth mentioning this section’s postmodern self-reflexivity – another one of Rushdie’s stylistic hallmarks. The narrator frequently makes reference to himself, as both the creator of the story and a character in it. Likewise, Mimi’s description of Western culture as a ‘culture of pastiche’ can describe The Satanic Verses itself, with its frequent references to Indian and Western pop culture and its appropriation of Islamic history.