Shalimar the Clown Hardcover – Sep 6 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. For Westerners, Rushdie's latest may be better heard than read. While readers might stumble over the Kashmiri, Indian and Pakistani names and accents, Mandvi glides right through them, allowing us to engage with Rushdie's well-wrought characters and sagas. Mandvi has a calm, quiet storyteller voice, often employing tempo to express emotional states and to make long, complex sentences entirely clear. In fact, one realizes he is nearly invisible (until he reads a few lines in a Romance language), leaving us to relish the sounds and images and rhythms of Rushdie's language. The book begins at the end, with the murder of the former American ambassador to India, Maximilian Ophuls, now a counterterrorist expert, then introduces his murderer, Shalimar the Clown, Kashmiri actor and acrobat-cum-terrorist, and Ophuls's illegitimate daughter, India, who brings the book to a conclusion as terror-filled and ambiguous as our own future. Suspense and tension are superbly built and layered through mythology and plots of lust and jealousy intertwined with cultural, religious, national and international affairs. Rushdie does get polemical for a while, even didactic; his writing in these sections sometimes sounds speechifying. Yet we come away with a mostly lyrical parable that offers us a way of grappling with the realities of our time and place, a way of refracting history through multiple lenses.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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
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.