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Shalimar the Clown [Hardcover]

Salman Rushdie
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 6 2005
Shalimar the Clown is a masterpiece from one of our greatest writers, a dazzling novel that brings together the fiercest passions of the heart and the gravest conflicts of our time into an astonishingly powerful, all-encompassing story.

Max Ophuls’ memorable life ends violently in Los Angeles in 1993 when he is murdered by his Muslim driver Noman Sher Noman, also known as Shalimar the Clown. At first the crime seems to be politically motivated – Ophuls was previously ambassador to India, and later US counterterrorism chief – but it is much more.

Ophuls is a giant, an architect of the modern world: a Resistance hero and best-selling author, brilliant economist and clandestine US intelligence official. But it is as Ambassador to India that the seeds of his demise are planted, thanks to another of his great roles – irresistible lover. Visiting the Kashmiri village of Pachigam, Ophuls lures an impossibly beautiful dancer, the ambitious (and willing) Boonyi Kaul, away from her husband, and installs her as his mistress in Delhi. But their affair cannot be kept secret, and when Boonyi returns home, disgraced and obese, it seems that all she has waiting for her is the inevitable revenge of her husband: Noman Sher Noman, Shalimar the Clown. He was an acrobat and tightrope walker in their village’s traditional theatrical troupe; but soon Shalimar is trained as a militant in Kashmir’s increasingly brutal insurrection, and eventually becomes a terrorist with a global remit and a deeply personal mission of vengeance.

With sweeping brilliance, Salman Rushdie portrays fanatical mullahs as fully as documentary filmmakers, rural headmen as completely as British spies; he describes villages that compete to make the most splendid feasts, the mentality behind martial law, and the celebrity of Los Angeles policemen, all with the same genius.

But the main story is only part of the story. In this stunningly rich book everything is connected, and everyone is a part of everyone else. Shalimar the Clown is a true work of the era of globalization, intricately mingling lives and countries, and finding unexpected and sometimes tragic connections between the seemingly disparate. The violent fate of Kashmir recalls Strasbourg’s experience in World War Two; Resistance heroism against the Nazis counterpoints Al-Qaeda’s terror in Pakistan, North Africa and the Philippines. 1960s Pachigam is not so far from post-war London, or the Hollywood-driven present-day Los Angeles where Max’s daughter by Boonyi, India Ophuls, beautiful, strong-willed, modern, waits, as vengeance plays itself out.

A powerful love story, intensely political and historically informed, Shalimar the Clown is also profoundly human, an involving story of people’s lives, desires and crises – India Ophuls’ desperate search for her real mother, for example; Max’s wife’s attempts to deal with his philandering – as well as, in typical Rushdie fashion, a magical tale where the dead speak and the future can be foreseen.

Shalimar the Clown is steeped in both the Hindu epic Ramayana and the great European novelists, melding the storytelling traditions of east and west into a magnificently fruitful blend – and serves, itself, as a corrective to the destructive clashes of values it scorchingly depicts. Enthralling, comic and amazingly abundant, it will no doubt come to be seen as one of the key books of our time.


The second portent came on the morning of the murder, when Shalimar the driver approached Max Ophuls at breakfast, handed him his schedule card for the day, and gave in his notice. The ambassador’s drivers tended to be short-term appointees, inclined to move on to new adventures in pornography or hairdressing, and Max was inured to the cycle of acquisition and loss. This time, however, he was shaken, though he did not care to show it. He concentrated on his day’s appointments, trying not to let the card shake. He knew Shalimar’s real name. He knew the village he came from and the story of his life. He knew the intimate connection between his own scandalous past and this grave unscandalous man who never laughed in spite of the creased eyes that hinted at a happier past, this man with a gymnast’s body and a tragedian’s face who had slowly become more of a valet than a mere driver, a silent yet utterly solicitous body servant who understood what Max needed before he knew it himself, the lighted cigar that materialized just as he was reaching for the humidor, the right cuff-links that were laid out on his bed each morning with the perfect shirt, the ideal temperature for his bathwater, the right times to be absent as well as the correct moments to appear. The ambassador was carried back to his Strasbourgeois childhood years in a Belle Époque mansion near the now-destroyed old synagogue, and found himself marvelling at the rebirth in this man from a distant mountain valley. . . .
—from Shalimar the Clown

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Signature]Reviewed by William T. VollmannThe focus of this novel is extremism. It tells the tale of two Kashmiri villages whose inhabitants gradually get caught up in communal violence. As we know from Yugoslavia, hatred takes on especially horrific manifestations when neighbors turn against each other. The neighbors to whom Rushdie introduces us are memorable and emblematic characters, especially his protagonists, the Hindu dancer Boonyi Kaul and her childhood sweetheart, Shalimar the clown, son of a Muslim family. Their passion becomes a marriage solemnized by both Hindu and Muslim rites, but as conflict heats up, Boonyi seduces the American ambassador. The resulting transformation of Shalimar into a terrorist is easily the most impressive achievement of the book, and here one must congratulate Rushdie for having made artistic capital out of his own suffering, for the years he spent under police protection, hunted by zealots, have been poured into the novel in ways which ring hideously true. Bit by bit, Shalimar becomes a figure of supernatural menace.The life of the ambassador, Max Ophuls, is also brilliantly invented. In a series of highly effective set pieces—Nazi-occupied Strasbourg, where he failed to persuade his principled parents to save the books they published, not to mention themselves, from the flames (the family was Jewish); southern France, where his exploits on behalf of the Resistance were so colorful that I would spoil the reader's pleasure if I betrayed them; England, where a glamorous wartime romance led him into his only marriage—the author builds our sympathy for the man who (with her connivance) ruins Boonyi's life and sets in motion Shalimar's destiny.Now for the novel's defects: Rushdie's female characters are generally less plausible than the male ones. When he is describing Kashmir's good old days of communal tolerance, he too frequently takes refuge in slapstick. His depiction of Los Angeles relies so much on references to popular culture that the place becomes a superficial parody of itself. In terms of technique, Rushdie's most irritating tic is the sermonistic parallelism or repetition, but the novel's best passages (not to mention his other great work, Shame) prove him capable of great style.Never mind these flaws. Shalimar the Clown is a powerful parable about the willing and unwilling subversion of multiculturalism. And for those readers who even in this post-September-eleventh continue to cling to American narcissism, the parable grows more urgently pointed: Ophuls and Boonyi conceive a daughter, who is taken away at birth and in due time becomes a beautiful, troubled, privileged ignoramus in Los Angeles. About Shalimar the clown, her mother's husband, she doesn't have a clue. Is that her fault? Is it our fault that we never paid much attention to the rest of the world? But one day, without any warning, two planes smashed into the Twin Towers, and now (wake up and run!) Shalimar the clown has arrived in Los Angeles. (On sale Sept. 6)Vollmann's most recent novel is Europe Central (Viking).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Before the eyes of his grown daughter, a former (and famous) American ambassador to India is stabbed to death by his enigmatic chauffeur, the Shalimar of the novel's title. What contemporary novelist knows more than Rushdie about the political-religious tensions besetting the globe since the middle of the twentieth century and, specifically, how such tensions not only affect personal lives but also, in many instances, create the lives many people lead? The historically shaped lives of Maximilian Ophus, born into a wealthy Jewish family in Strasbourg, France, and later a Resistance hero and vastly popular diplomat, and Shalimar the Clown, who grew up in the devastatingly beautiful (but Hindu-Muslim disputed) Kashmir region of India, intersect, and why one is compelled to take the other's life seems to be the perfect material for Rushdie's cosmopolitan, sociopolitical consciousness. To characterize the novel as "rich" seems inadequately broad as a general description of a Rushdie book, including this one. Let it stand, however, as a cogent descriptor of Rushdie's sheer and magnificent talent. His beautifully metaphoric language and sly sense of humor keep his complex plot, with its layers of personal and cosmic meaning, tightly woven. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Très, très, très inégal Nov. 28 2006
By tingo
Format:Paperback
Déçu est peut-être le mot le plus approprié. Après deux chapitres excellents et bien à la hauteur de mon attente, Salman Rushdie se dévoile brutalement comme l'émule de Dan Brown, pour nous faire un tableau délirant de la France au début de la 2ème guerre mondiale. Après cela, la qualité du roman se relève quelque peu, au niveau d'un bon ouvrage de journalisme investigatif, pour enfin s'écraser dans la dernière partie, avec le pastiche involontaire d'un quelconque roman américan contemporain.

Rushdie, a master of unevenness?

The first and last book I ever had read by Salman Rushdie was his Satanic Verses. I liked it, in spite of a tendency to unevenness that left me a bit unsatisfied. Yet, I remember placing it on the shelf with such masters as Amado, Allende, Garcia Marquez... My only contact with Rushdie, ever since, had been the occasional op-eds or comments I came across here and there, some of them intelligent considerations on events of our times, others sheer nonsense.

Well, with all the respect due to someone whose output not doubt has been affected by the hardships of a quite peculiar fate, unevenness seem like the only mastery Rushdie has perfected with this last novel, to the detriment of any other stylistic and literary achievement. Magical realism, when it makes its timid appearance, seems counterfeit and not at all integrated with the rest of the plot.

The two first parts, India and Boonyi, were boding well, though.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great. Feb. 19 2009
By S. Holt
Format:Paperback
Great book. The master weaves effortlessly forwards and backwards in time; into and out of places. The weaving never seems contrived. The book becomes a serious page-turner. But this book is very different in character from earlier books like Midnight's Children and The Moor's Last Sigh - the trademark juxtaposing of comedy and brutal darkness is different - more brutality with the lighter moments more like comic relief in the gloomy reality of the world Rushdie makes us see. In fact the books does have a depressing air about it. But the ending is very satisfying. And it is a wicked read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant June 22 2008
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Maxmillian Ophuls a U.S. diplomat, who was formally stationed in the Kashmir Valley, is murdered by his former chauffeur, Shalimar, in broad day light on the doorstep of his illegitimate daughter India. The murder looks at first to be a political assassination but turns out to be personal.

Several flashbacks take the readers to the past. Shalimar, the clown, was once full of affection and deeply in love with Boonyi, a beautiful Hindu girl who he married. Things come to a turn when Maxmillian comes to the village and becomes Boonyi's lover. A scandal erupts when she becomes pregnant and Max is forced to return to the U.S a single man. The child, India, is eventually brought to England by Maxmillian's wife.

Shalimar couldn't bear Boonyi's betrayal and dedicates the rest of his life to get even with those who caused his unhappiness.

The story is depicted in layers. The author opens with details about Max Ophuls murder and his history in Kashmir. He also describes the generation before Shalimar and Max's past as a Jew in wartime France. Two thirds into the book the pace heightens, becoming thrilling as much as intellectual when Shalimar's character is introduced. The author also details devastating accounts of the Indian armies' insurrection, the violation of the women, the torturing and execution of the men all done in the name of faith and country.

Kashmir is the central point of this novel, although the title may not sound like it. This book is dazzling and brilliant but reading it was exhausting, things never stopped happening. Just as you get the hang of a character, another one is introduced with all his history, it is easy to miss the literary, historical and mythical allusion portrayed in this dense narrative. Mr Rushdie writes with humour, sarcasm and sensitivity and the tale of "Shalimar the Clown" is a tragic one that could also be real. A very interesting novel.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  93 reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars yes it comments on terrorism but is so much more Sept. 26 2005
By L. Berlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Yes I am a fan of Rushdie, but I found this to be his best since Satanic Verses, although much different. As the other reviewers note part of this book is about terrorism. The other reviews also do a nice job of covering plot so I will skip it.

I would suggest the book is about so much more than terrorism. In fact I think his views of terrorism are not integral to the story and would not recommend reading it as a text in support of or against current US policy. Rushdie condemns politicians and their inane behavior in many ways, but I do not view that as central.

First and foremost, I believe this book is about the meaning of freedom. This brings it close to the heart of Rushdie who of course had to give up his freedom, at least for awhile to take advantage of his freedom to think and write. The book recounts the flights to freedom and differing views of it through many of the characters in the book. It explores the struggles of many characters to attain freedom or to benefit from it. This includes Max Ophuls who fled the nazis, Boon-yi, the heroine of sorts, who is trapped in her life, India Ophuls, the daughter of Maxand other characters. It is also about Kashmir and its loss of freedom at the hands of India and Pakistan who use it for their political ends.

I also believe this book is about the western concept of fate as passed down from the Greeks and its meanings. It is also about women and their role in societies and how they cope with men, life, love, tragedy and more. Much of it reminded me of the classics by men and written about women. Yes this is a short list, but Rushdie does such an amazing job of dealing with these issues, I can hardly do it justice.

All this is done through a tight plot with typical Rushdie humor, twists and turns and a good share of mysticism. It was a pleasure to read and I heartily recommend it.
56 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing Oct. 9 2005
By huckledude - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A mesmerizing tale centered in Kashmir but roaming around the world and throughout history. The large cast of characters are each enchanting or entrancing in turn (although, oddly, the protagonist, India Ophuls, is not). The central tragedy of the story is the transformation of Kashmir from a Garden of Eden populated with warm, humble, enchanting, and enchanted rural villagers, into a ravaged moonscape populated by cold-blooded, fanatic, malevolent marauders from Pakistan and India; the story of Shalimar the Clown and Boonyi recapitulates the tragedy on a personal level, each proceeding toward their respective dooms after Boonyi eats from the forbidden fruit of modernity and Shalimar the Clown becomes an Islamist terrorist by way of passage to the execution of his personal terrorist agenda.

Rushdie's writing is mesmerizing throughout. The narrative is a dense tapestry that seems to lead in many directions but is all, in the end, tightly woven together. The only weakness, in my humble opinion, was that his protagonaist, India Ophuls, is an unappetizing character in her own right. The story of her childhood as the "root cause" for her unappealing traits is an oddly sociological, Oprah-istic formulation in a novel that is dominated by innocence and evil frankly declared.

Notwithstanding the overarching tragedy of the narrative, there is considerable humor of both the life-affirming and the splenetic varieties. On the other hand, Rushdie's proper English gentlemanliness creeps in occasionally in his disdain for those sullied by commerce or uniforms.

As someone who does not read a great deal of fiction, I was familiar with Rushdie only because of his unpopularity with the famous literary critic, Ayatollah Khomeini. I can see from Shalimar the Clown that I have been missing out on one of the most substantial literary talents of our time.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars rushdie's heart-rending dream of return Oct. 12 2005
By Raymond Rice - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Salman Rushdie is our world's greatest living novelist and "Shalimar the Clown," quite simply put, is one of his greatest creations. Heart-rending, heart-breaking, filled with fury and indignation, love and the hope of reconciliation, political diatribe and aesthetic redemption, "Shalimar" reads like no other contemporary work. Passages of marvelous beauty (particularly of the early love between Shalimar and Boonyi, two of the novel's central characters), of the triumph of art over ideology (particularly Bombur Yambarzal's humorous and heroic deflation of the humorless and despicable mullah, Bulbul Fakh), and of the unmitigated horrors of war (particularly the destruction of the once near-utopian village of Pachigam, perhaps one of the most tragic passages in modern literature) confront readers at nearly every turn. This is one of the most densely populated (in the sense of characterization as well as ideas) novels of recent years, perhaps even more apocalyptically epic in scope than Rushdie's own "Midnight's Children." Most important of all, Rushdie proves (once again) that politics and literature can be mutually enriching as well as informative; that art can teach more profoundly than any ideology (religious or political); and that hope and beauty--in the midst of the very worst of human-made atrocities-- will find a way (sometimes) to persevere. This is a difficult, angry novel; but make no mistake, it will reward the patient (and thoughtful) reader with a profoundly moving experience. Indeed, Rushdie reminds us all why the novel remains one of the most pertinent and potent of today's artistic venues.
44 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "An age of fury was dawning, and only the enraged could shape it." Sept. 12 2005
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When India Ophuls finds the body of her father, his throat slashed by his Kashmiri chauffeur, Shalimar the Clown, she and the police believe the death to be connected to terrorism. Max Ophuls, "the Resistance hero, the philosopher prince, the billionaire power-broker, the maker of the world" was also "America's best loved, then most scandalous Ambassador to India." Though Max has been US counter-terrorism chief recently, his assassination by Shalimar the Clown, we learn, has been an act of pure, personal revenge, unrelated to terrorist organizations.

Through an extended flashback, Rushdie recreates the love story of Shalimar, a tightrope walker, and Boonyi Kaul, a dancer and acrobat, in a troupe from Pachigam, a small Kashmiri village where both Muslims and Hindus live and work together peacefully and govern the town together. Shalimar and Boonyi fall deeply in love at fourteen and marry soon after, but several years later, Boonyi has an affair with Ambassador Max Ophuls, and her abandonment of her husband turns the enraged Shalimar into a potential assassin, who swears revenge upon everyone involved in the affair.

The continuing story of Boonyi and Shalimar becomes an allegory for the history of Kashmir, its Hindu/Muslim conflicts and its political India/Pakistan conflicts, as young Muslim men including Shalimar, respond to the teachings of the "iron mullahs" with their fundamentalist messages. Incorporating local mythology, legend, and traditional story-telling, Rushdie sheds light on the actions of the main characters, emphasizing the traditional beliefs which underlie much of their behavior. Dreams, visions, and prophecies give warnings of disasters to come. Boonyi's relationship with Max becomes the story of betrayal by a powerful American, and Max's Jewish background, which is emphasized, injects fundamentalist hatred of Jews into the controlling allegory.

Though Rushdie stresses that Shalimar assassinated Max Ophuls as an act of personal revenge, not terrorism, he nevertheless extends the allegory and symbolism from the personal to the universal. When the focus of the novel moves from Kashmir into the broader realm of all recent world events, it begins to break down thematically. "Everywhere's story is now a part of everywhere else," Rushdie says. Shalimar, for example, has trained in the Philippines with Abu Sayyaf, a group aided by Libya and Malaysia. India Ophuls sees her father as Nelson Mandela in a dream. The Los Angeles riots, 9/11, Rodney King, and Reginald Denny are viewed as part of interconnected violence throughout the world. Even the 1974 murder of a nanny in England by Lord Lucan is somehow connected to Max's murder and Shalimar's personal revenge.

Dense with imagery, legend, and local color, the novel lacks Rushdie's trademark humor, word play, puns, and clever repartee. His characters, though layered and often complex, illustrate aspects of the historical allegory and behave in ways that advance the plot and symbolism, rather than as characters with lives of their own. Journalistic passages, inserted within the story, give further information about the Indian army, its fight against the insurgency, and reports of fidayeen attacks and atrocities.

A fascinating study of the Kashmiri conflict, the cultures of the area, and the growth of radical Islam, the novel conveys both the spectacular beauty and the spectacular violence of the area, offering much to think about in terms of the origins of such violence. In his attempt to broaden the scope from Kashmir to the world stage and to show all violence as connected, however, Rushdie has stretched his themes and created a novel which often feels dogmatic. n Mary Whipple
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rushdie and the Exquisite Myth Sept. 6 2005
By Evan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Leave it to Salman Rushdie to tackle the most poignant issue of our day - terrorism, and do so with eloquence, wit, and true revelations into its distressing nucleus. While other authors have included 9/11 in their novels (Foer's rather trite attempt in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Rushdie has managed to set the stage for a true exegesis of the zeitgeist prior to, and directly thereafter, this seminal event in American history. By investigating so perfectly the transformation of Shalimar into an extremist, Rushdie is able to weave together an explanation of why terrorists are born that remains personal, and yet also reaches an almost universal explication. This eerie gift is by far a better investigation of the reason for terrorism than any so-called scholarly work that has come out post-9/11. The fact that Rushdie provides his terrorist with such a layered biography is a testament to his talents, and allows the reader to understand there is far more to it than what they suggest on the nightly news. Rushdie's Shalimar becomes nearly the equivalent of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost - we feel sympathetic towards him while at the same time, we know he is no hero. Like Milton, Rushdie is a myth-maker, and his ability to conjure up these new myths makes the novel all the more alluring.

Myths are universal. They capture the collective (un)consciousness of a given society. They tap into our most primal and complex notions and feelings. They work as symbols of our own actions and emotions. So, for an author to invent a myth, and do so with the perfection of actually capturing our attitudes, our new customs, our new thoughts, our new fears, he or she has accomplished something grand. And here, Rushdie has done so flawlessly. His characters work as archetypes, each one representing a given aspect of our worldly society today. Shalimar is those that we fear, Max is those we understand and respect (the West) but who are unequipped to understand and properly deal with the new world's greatest threat, Boonyi is the middle-point, the place where this friction collides, and it is fitting that she is the mother of complacency and American narcissism. For her child, living in Los Angeles in an absurd existence of self-indulgence and isolationism, with no understanding of her roots and the imminent catastrophe, is our attitude and response.

However, this novel is not all dire. Like all great myths, it is hilarious, erotic, absurd, and beautiful. It is a Divine Comedy, as well. The paradox of Dante's ominous subject is deftly played out here, as the humor and the beauty works to magnify the tragedy.

It has long been argued as well that the real frontline of terrorism is Kashmir, and here again, Rushdie beautifully expresses why this is, from a very interesting discussion of the history, to the events shaping the area into a hotbed of extremism. Long before there was Bush's war, there was the unending war between Hindu and Muslim. Kashmir is its home. Rushdie of course has intimate knowledge of this collision of cultures and the violence it can cause. His own forced reclusion after The Satanic Verse, when extremists were intent on doing away with him, is magically transferred into this novel, but without simply blaming Islam. Yet again, a feat of Rushdie's gifts.

Finally, Rushdie seems to be so in tune with our culture's prevailing attitudes, he appears to be almost speaking for us all. And not just those of us in the US or Europe, but our fellow humans across the globe similarly effected by terrorism. This notion of myth-making, of creating a new saga to highlight truths that cannot otherwise be expressed is a welcome return in contemporary literature. I am reminded of Christopher Wunderlee's The Loony, in which truth is so shrouded in mythology; we are incapable of understanding it. While Wunderlee's novel illuminates our mythologizing the past, and contorting the past to fit our current needs, Rushdie is looking at now, and requesting his readers to look forward. Both novels (interestingly both published this year) investigate the work of myth in our lives, untruths clarifying our basic truths, and how these sagas can still explain so much, even today.
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