Shalimar the clown : a novel

by Salman Rushdie

Paper Book, 2006

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

London : Vintage, 2006.

Description

"Los Angeles, 1991. Maximilian Ophuls, one of the makers of the modern world, is knifed to death in broad daylight on the doorstep of his illegitimate daughter India, slaughtered by his Kashmiri Muslim driver, a mysterious figure who calls himself Shalimar the clown. The dead man is a World War II Resistance hero, a man of formidable intellectual ability and much erotic appeal, a former United States ambassador to India, and subsequently America's counter-terrorism chief. The murder looks at first like a political assassination but turns out to be passionately personal.". "This is the story of Max, his killer, and his daughter - and of a fourth character, the woman who links them, whose revelation finally explains them all. It is a narrative that moves from California to Kashmir, France, and England, and back to California again. Along the way there are tales of princesses lured from their homes by demons, legends of kings forced to defend their kingdoms against evil. There is kindness and there is magic capable of producing miracles, but there is also war - ugly, unavoidable, and seemingly interminable. And there is always love, gained and lost, uncommonly beautiful and mortally dangerous."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

Media reviews

' "Shalimar the Clown" is hobbled by Mr. Rushdie's determination to graft huge political and cultural issues onto a flimsy soap opera plot.... What is most engaging about this novel - and represents a return to form, after two particularly weak and poorly observed novels - is Mr. Rushdie's creation of several compelling characters....'

User reviews

LibraryThing member bohemima
The very simple plot--man betrayed by wife, seeks revenge--is completely surrounded by Rushdie's beautiful language, which he uses to discuss, among other things: the history of Kashmir; the complex relationship of India and Pakistan; terrorism, its origins, effects, and perpetrators; the nature of love; folk tales and magic; and the interactions between religions, particularly Islam and Buddhism. Violence and the separation of peoples into religious, cultural, and natural groups which can be manipulated into hatred ot the "other" is explored in depth.

One obstacle to easy reading is the names of the characters, which are hard for the western reader to keep straight. Another is the background cultural information used throughout the book. Certainly this is a complicated work and one that requires effort on the part of the reader, but one which will repay the careful reader for a long time.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ourhomeplanet
Salman Rushdie's "Shalimar the Clown" is a masterful book that blends political intrigue, romance, revenge, and mysticism into a tantalizing, and completely satisfying reading experience. With numerous interlocking plot lines that take you as a reader all the way from beautiful Kashmir, to German occupied France in World War Two, to Los Angelos, one seems to be have a first hand look into a world magic seems possible, and at the same time a look into the most horrible of human tragedies.
The themes of revenge and of hidden secrets soon to be revealed guides this novel, and compels you to keep on reading.
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LibraryThing member grunin
Some say this isn't one of Rushdie's better books, in which case I can hardly wait to read the others. I found it consistently interesting, sometimes even moving.

This story takes four or five morally compromised characters and shuttles them through the warp of modern political history, from the beginning of World War II to the mid-90s. Several of them move in the political sphere, and all of struggle to control (or reinvent) their identities, changing direction as they do so. It sprawls a bit, but most of the bits that seem colorful tangents end up reinforcing the narrative. There are a few moments when his invention flags, particularly towards the end, but I don't want to quibble: as soon as I finished it I read the first fifty pages all over again, and you will too.… (more)
LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
don't worry! No spoilers, just a synopsis

this one I'm keeping, but I very highly recommend it. In fact, it should be one of those books you must not miss and should likely be in everyone's collection. After a slow start (for me, only because I didn't know what was coming), it got to where I could not put this book down and sat in one spot reading until I finished.

Shalimar the Clown was the husband of Boonyi Noman, who was a Pandit dancer in a small village of Kashmir (where the novel's core takes place, beginning in the 1960s). Max Ophuls, who wance served in the French Resistance against the Nazis, and who moved up the ladder of power in the United States ultimately serving as the American Ambassador to India during the time of Indira Ghandi. To be very brief, a whirlwind of power politicking brings Max, his wife Peggy and the entourage to Kashmir, where Max, in a nostalgic moment, has arranged for a traditional dance to be done by the Pandit actors and dancers. The lead dancer is Boonyi, who had to settle for her marriage to Shalimar earlier, and while she loves him, knows that she's only got one chance in life, and judging by the look on the face of the American Ambassador watching her dance, knows that this is it. She decides to go off with Max, and in doing so, as the author notes on page 194, "...that was how ic came about that a faithless wife from the village of the bhand pather beggan to influence, to complicate and even so shape, American diplomatic activity regarding the vexed matter of Kashmir." It is with Max's murder on the doorstep of his daughter India's apartment that the novel begins; and throughout the story we learn of a single-minded obsession on the part of Shalimar to avenge the wrong that was done to him.

What sets this book apart is the look at the politics & circumstances of the demise of Kashmir, from the points of view of the villagers, the "freedom" fighters, the resistance, the generals. It is a marvelous insight to the forces that shaped Taliban and extremist rule, and the violence which shapes our world even now.

Give it a read and go slowly; it is truly a book you'll want to savor.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
Against a backdrop of a variety of settings and into a plot of love and revenge, Rushdie smuggles the themes of religious and ethnic intolerance, roots of terrorism and madness of political forces working to destroy peaceful existence.

It took me the longest time to get into this book. I was well past the half-way point when I started being interested in what was to happen. The story seemed awfully banal, and it really gained life in the second part.
The characters that we are introduced to in the first chapters of the novel seem unemotional, detached from each other and remote to the reader, even though the story itself is familiar to a Western reader and takes place mainly in California, and then in a flashback, in Europe during the Second World War. It’s only in the further chapters that the setting, Kashmir, becomes more exotic and well drawn at the same time, and the characters are more colourful and passionate. Rushdie’s writing gets more flare and the story itself is more reminiscent of Midnight’s Children- the only book by him that I finished and enjoyed.

The style seemed a bit choppy, but still epigrammatic at the beginning, and improved when Rushdie entered settings and issues that he seemed to be passionate about. The style changed from a thriller-like dry and sensational and became a blend of magical realism, heroic tales with bits of comedy and farce in-between.
Since a lot of the book examines the life, motives and workings of the mind of an ordinary sensitive man turned professional killer-terrorist and the feelings of his victims, I am sure a lot there comes from Rushdie’s own feelings and thoughts in the matter, and a lot of it examines the causes and motives of the 9/11 world.
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LibraryThing member theageofsilt
An outstanding novel for book discussion groups with rich characterizations and important themes. The peaceful multi-culturalism of an idyllic Kashmiri village is destroyed by political and religious conflict. Rushdie explores many complex themes, including the cultural imperialism of fundamentalist Islam as traditional dance, modes of dress and music are oppressed. Rushdie is deserving of a Nobel prize for this and his many other fine novels.… (more)
LibraryThing member lriley
A very good and very well written novel by one of the world's most famous authors. Well--not entirely unexpected but sometimes Rushdie's work can stretch credibility. This one however is well grounded and tells us a lot about the area called Kashmir that has been disputed over by India and Pakistan since at least the 60's. In the beginning we see two different cultures more than less living in harmony with each other. Shalimar a young Muslim and Boonyi a young Hindu fall in love with each other and although there are some misgivings from their respective families--compromises are made and they eventually marry. In the meantime the Pakastani army crosses the border and is more or less beaten back by the Indian one. Then we have Mullahs start agitating over Pakistani and Muslim right to the area and gaining acolytes and the Indian army responding by stamping out these insurgencies very brutally and at the same time terrorizing the population on the whole. A wedge is now driven between Hindu and Muslim. As it works out Boonyi although she loves Shalimar is also very much attracted to the modern world outside of India and on meeting the American ambassador (Maximillian Ophuls) at a dance performance seduces and then comes to an agreement with him of more or less--sex for the good life. When the unsuspecting Shalimar learns that she has left him to become a concubine he is crushed. Without going into the background of the ambassador too much--let us just say that his barren wife is not very pleased when she learns of this new arrangement. Eventually a wedge is likewise driven between the ambassador and Boonyi. Boonyi in fact is left more or less abandoned--and forgotten she sinks more and more into depravity becoming an obese drug addict. The scandal then becomes national news but Boonyi kind of in a last act to the affair fools the ambassador into getting her pregnant. At this point the wife steps in and succeeds in hushing up the pregnancy--takes the child as her own and Boonyi goes back in disgrace to her village where she is given a place to live on her own a short distance away from her village. Now Shalimar has come under the spell of a Mullah preaching hatred against the Hindus and the West is waiting to take his revenge but he has promised not only his father but his father-in-law not to hurt her as long as either of them are alive--and so he seethes and then he becomes a terrorist and an assassin--vowing not only to kill Boonyi one day but also the ambassador and also the daughter of that union--India (or Kashmira). That is about the set up. As I've said it's well told and very interesting in the way it sheds light on the conflict between one religion and another--one idea of what the world should be and another. I liked it a lot and very much would recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member ragetan
Shalimar the Clown
Read from 27 Oct - 4 Nov 06

Rushdie once again displays his genius for weaving a tale that illuminates all aspects of human existence – love, revenge, politics, religion, war and violence. This is history painted with a broad lustrous sweep but never losing focus of the minutest sentiments of family and relationships that define the day to day essence of our humanity. At once sweet and humorous, cold and brutal, Shalimar represents the teeming mass of life itself. I’m exhausted from nights of staying up falling asleep and waking again to continue. I’ve grown sad from the terrible vendettas played out by men and women no different from myself. I am also fascinated by the many worlds and existences contained within these few hundred pages of wood-pulp and ink. What beautiful images are spun of Kashmir, the bhand pather performances, its natural icy scenery, its wild connection to the cosmic aspects of life. More so than the images of Agra, Bombay, Delhi etc, the hot crowded cities of Midnight’s Children, in Shalimar the mystic and sparse Kashmiri landscape comes alive in a compelling manner. What wondrous characters populate the book, and by extension the face of our earth. The heroic Abdullah Noman, de facto village headman and head artist of the performing troupe, his acid-tongued, warm-hearted wife Firdaus, the myriad village people, and of course Shalimar the clown and Bhoomi or Boonyi Kaul, our Kashmiri Romeo and Juliet brandishing their ill-fated love in an era of American Cold War politics, Indo-Pakistani conflict, vanishing indigenous arts and the golden age of the modern Western nation. Such are the stuffs from which the most magical tales are made.

I cannot rest my mind from it; cannot simply close the back cover and place the book away on a shelf and be done with it.

Can fiction be more real than fact? The tone of narrative authority, the uncompromising moral judgement made upon events and characters – nevertheless, made-up – that mirror current events and characters, place Shalimar above other works of fiction. The sense of authorial responsibility presses me to conclude that the creator of the novel must be driven by some larger motivation than the artist’s need to express himself through his craft. This is also a warning, a deeply passionate tale preached in the most elegant way possible such that it rings in the hearts of its readers and awakens their moral consciousness.

What a creator Rushdie is. In all his novels, never has there been the usual failures caused by ego, the boring sameness of style, the shallowness of character that is revealed after one has read the fourth, fifth specimen of the author’s product. Each novel is a new birth of ideas, carrying cultural, political, literary weight within their pages. Such endless production of quality works surely points to a creator whose sensibilities and intellect are immensely superior to the ordinary man. (Yes, even The Ground Beneath Her Feet was enthralling for me.)
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LibraryThing member grunin
I listened to about half the book before I bought the printed version. It made a big difference to hear the unfamiliar Indian words and names spoken fluently, without my having to pause to sound them out and guess at syllabification and stress.
LibraryThing member sharonlflynn
I enjoyed this book. It has everything: love, betrayal, murder, revenge. I also learned a lot about Kashmir and its turbulent history. A very absorbing read.
LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
This is a beautiful tale about a family from Kashmir. The father is an ambassador with a modern-minded daughter in the U.S. Their earlier life in Kashmir follows them to the U.S. Wonderful prose with touches of magical realism.
LibraryThing member daizylee
Very different for Rushdie. American setting. More real. Still hot-button issues.
LibraryThing member Griff
Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie is an excellent book that, though about Kashmir (in a sense), it is eerily applicable to so much in the world, including our present Iraq debacle. It was an interesting experience carrying the book to restaurants to read during dinner while in the Arabian Gulf region - always placing the book cover down in the decidely Islamic country I was in. A great read - Rushdie seldom disappoints.… (more)
LibraryThing member emanate28
Reading this novel was so effortless because of the way the words and the story and the characters was propelled forward, keeping me totally engrossed. It's amazing how some authors are able to depict such complex human interactions at the personal and societal level, and without falling into easy labelling of good vs evil.

Well, OK, there are the clear 'bad guys' in the novel, but a lot of bad things come from regular people with decent intentions. Things just went wrong...and can we really blame those individuals for the choices they made?

Compelling & magical. Complex, vast.

The only part that wasn't so satisfying was the end--it somehow felt anti-climactic (maybe also b/c I found India/Kashimira rather flat as a character), like it was tacked on quickly after an extremely thoughtful and laborious crafting of the rest of the tale.
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LibraryThing member sggottlieb
An amazing story that glides through World War II Austria to Kashmir in the 1960s (or is it 1970's?) to present day California. It has the suspense of the best thriller and is written with rich character development and beautiful descriptions of those diverse places and cultures. I was totally immersed to the last word of the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
I read this book in the space of about 3 days, I find Rushdies books quite easy to read compared to those from certain other authors. I would place this book on more or less equal ground with Shame and Fury, that being not quite as good as The Moor's Last Sigh, and The Satanic Verses. The plot was interesting, with enough to base a good story around, but I didn't find it quite as compelling as the two lastly mentioned Rushdie books. It was a good read, and it had me engrossed, but it was in many ways a more depressing read, like Shame and Fury, where many of the events were sad, and the whole thing was not quite upbeat enough for me. Despite these things, it is a rich and well written book and I enjoyed it, as should those who have enjoyed other books from this author. A few of the relevant contemporary issues are covered here which will either interest you, or not, (perhaps if you read for escapism). These include war, religious conflict, politics, and terrorism, and are balanced with the more classic ones of love and revenge.… (more)
LibraryThing member teacherteacher
A remarkable insider's look into the mind and motives of a terrorist, as well as that of his victim and that victim's ultimate avenger. A bit slow a times, yet Rushdie always managed to rise above the expected and recapture my interest with his searing use of language and political metaphor.
LibraryThing member innermusic
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member yevgenb
very recommendet tragic and poetic novel
LibraryThing member davidroche
Accessible and brilliant Rushdie
LibraryThing member Keijukainen
The plot about the people in the book was interesting. However, I think there was too much about the politics, so much it finally got boring.
LibraryThing member drsnowdon
While Rushdie is an absolutely incredible writer, this story of an inside look at the conflict between India and Pakistan and the resulting creation of terrorist networks failed to grab me.
LibraryThing member Clara53
A very good book, though sad...
LibraryThing member AramisSciant
Excellent. Made me so totally stoked to visit India and see all those great Mughal palaces. Then it's so sad when you find out that most of it is lost..
LibraryThing member jackdeighton
After the relatively disappointing aberration of Fury this novel sees Rushdie return for his setting to the locales and interests from which he made his name. He treated with Indira Ghandi’s India in Midnight’s Children, Pakistan in Shame and Islam in The Satanic Verses, before returning to (modern) India with The Ground Beneath Her Feet. In Shalimar The Clown it is Kashmir on which he focuses. In this sense the novel’s start is misleading as it begins in California with the daughter of a former ambassador in the days leading up to his assassination by his chauffeur/factotum, the titular Shalimar the Clown.

The book ranges far and wide with many digressions. In a strange resonance with the previous book that I read the ambassador, Maximilian Ophuls, [why Rushdie chose for his character the name of a film director is somewhat obscure; to me at any rate] was a (Jewish) native of Alsace forced to flee, leaving the family printing business behind, after the Germans took over in 1940. He became a leading member of the French Resistance, was involved in US-French relations, emigrating to the US at the end of the war, and was appointed ambassador to India in the 1960s. This novel is not without incident.

The story arc of the book deals, though, with the relationship between Noman Sher Noman and Boonyi Kaul (both of whom, along with Max and his daughter are given sections of the book - I was going to say to themselves, but other characters pop up all the time all over the book, in typically Rushdiean profusion) and the two villages in Kashmir, Pachigam and Shirmal, where they grew up. It seems all of life is here; the picture of a community, a way of life, is detailed. The plot of the novel is almost buried at times – yet this is true of every section. And is the placid, comradely, nature of existence there before the tensions between India and Pakistan led to strife in the region a touch overplayed? Whatever, the growth of Islamic fundamentalist influence, the deterioration in the situation and the horror of communal conflict is well depicted. Neither the Pakistan backed Muslim terrorists nor the Indian Army are spared implicit criticism.

When Ophuls visits the villages Boonyi seizes her chance to escape, only to end up in a different kind of entrapment. Noman meanwhile burns for revenge. He is recruited as a terrorist and suppresses his character while training. In this context the use of his name (no man) as a signifier seemed perhaps a little trite.

A short review can only touch the surface of the myriad elements which go into a novel which, like this, tries to deal with a big issue. There has to be some kind of story on which to hang the subject matter but at times, here, the human dimension is lost in a surfeit of detail. Do we really, for example, need to know the history of the main characters’ parents? This is a trope which Rushdie has employed in previous books. (A similar trait annoyed me in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead where, every time the author switched to a new viewpoint, we were treated to the character’s whole life story to that point, fatally interrupting the novel’s flow.) In Shalimar The Clown moreover, many passages are told rather in the style of a historical narration than a novel. I shall not reveal the true identity of Shalimar, even though it's not hard to guess.

While I could have done without the ascent into fantasy in the final section, Rushdie’s sympathies are always in the right place and, despite the various horrors the book describes, overall it is, as perhaps all fiction should be, life–enhancing. After Fury, it represents a return to form.
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