Quichotte : a novel

by Salman Rushdie

Hardcover, 2019

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Random House, [2019]

Description

"Quichotte, an aging traveling salesman obsessed with the "unreal real" of TV, falls in impossible love with a queen of the screen; while obsessively writing her love letters, he wishes an imaginary son, Sancho, into existence. Together they set off across America in Quichotte's trusty Chevy Cruze to find her and convince her of his love. Meanwhile, Quichotte's tragicomic story is being told by the author who created him: Brother, a mediocre spy novelist in the midst of a midlife crisis. As their stories intertwine, we are taken on a wild, picaresque journey through a country on the edge of moral and spiritual collapse. Just as Cervantes wrote Don Quixote to satirize the culture of his time, Rushdie brings us a new twist on a classic. Quichotte is a profoundly human love story and a wickedly entertaining satire of a corrupt age in which fact is so often indiscernible from fiction. With unforgettable characters and riveting suspense, this dazzling novel showcases an essential storyteller at his brilliant best"--… (more)

Media reviews

https://www.npr.org/2019/09/07/755162016/if-salman-rushdies-quichotte-drives-you-nuts-thats-fine-its-meant-to
1 more
No, it’s not a type of canape. It’s Quichotte as in Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes’s 17th-century proto-novel, here reimagined by Salman Rushdie as a 21st-century post-novel. Realism, apparently, is no longer up to the job of describing our nutzoid world. As one character suggests, “the surreal, or even the absurd, now offer the most accurate descriptors of real life”

User reviews

LibraryThing member browner56
Ismail Smile is on a quest. An elderly Indian man working as a pharmaceutical salesman in present-day America, he is slightly addled of mind but pure of spirit and full of hope. Using the pseudonym Quichotte (pronounced “key-SHOT” for reasons eventually revealed) along with Sancho, the son he imagines into existence, they set off across the continent on a journey through the seven valleys of challenge—one of which being the need to reconcile with the sister he has wronged—that will lead him to his Beloved and prove him worthy of her love. But his Beloved, a self-styled film and television star with lots of problems of her own, has no idea who Quichotte is or how he got the idea that the two of them were meant to be together. Whether or not they actually are destined to become a couple forms the dramatic tension in this engaging tale.

Sounds like a relatively straightforward modernization of Cervantes’ classic social satire Don Quixote, right? It is, but then this is a Salman Rushdie novel, meaning that nothing is quite that simple. As it turns out, the character of Quichotte is the invention of Sam DuChamp, an unremarkable author of spy fiction, who is writing this picaresque as a way to redeem the mess he has made of his own life. So, the book Quichotte is a story-within-a-story with more than a few twists in its intricate, parallel plotline. Above all else, with this saga Rushdie has produced his own sendup of life in the 21st century. And what a skewering, take-no-prisoners look it is, focused on such timely issues as immigration, racism, climate change, obsession with the media, family conflicts, opioid addiction, mental illness, the problems of aging, fears about the end of the world, and, of course, the quest for love.

Following The Golden House, this novel continues the author’s recent trend of setting his unique brand of social commentary in a modern setting, rather than the historical context he has used in much of his earlier work. Overall, I found Quichotte to be a well-written and extremely well-crafted story; Rushdie is truly a masterful stylist of fiction and he has long been one of my favorite writers. Certainly, the points he wants to make come through loudly and clearly in a narrative that is wonderfully creative and entertaining. However, it is also not without its flaws; the entire tale felt a little bloated at times and the author is perhaps too heavy-handed in his portrayal of the racism and ethnic hatred that defines the American public. So, while it does not approach Midnight’s Children as the best of Rushdie’s esteemable catalog, this is a book that I can happily recommend to both fans of the author and those new to his work.
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LibraryThing member thorold
Rushdie's never been known for pushing a blithe and optimistic view of the world, and no-one would really be expecting a rose-tinted view from him in his seventies, especially given the many bad things that actually are happening in the world around us. So, it's perhaps no great surprise that this latest book includes a chapter in which the world actually does end...

The interesting thing, of course, is what he does with this state of affairs. And being Rushdie, it's not the most obvious approach. Instead of telling us about the bad things he sees in modern life, he takes it for granted that we already know about the evils of social media, intolerance, Trump, climate catastrophe, racism, pre-cooked opinions, television, etc., and he focusses instead on the way our minds equip us to deal with such things by shifting away from reality into the realm of myths, stories, and romantic quests. Which naturally enough leads him into the Quixote story, but again we don't get the Quixote story "straight", we get an imaginary novelist who has created an imaginary modern Quixote (or rather "Quichotte", because Massenet is in there somewhere as well) character, and the imaginary modern Quichotte character creates an imaginary Sancho. And we see the process of fiction working as it's made explicit how the Quichotte shares some - but not all - of the character and background of the novelist, and implicit that the novelist shares some of the character and background of the equally imaginary Rushdie who is writing him. And so ad infinitum.

And just for fun, we soon realise that there's all sorts of other intertextuality going on here - people falling out of aeroplanes, an Italian talking cricket, a Romanian troubled by rhinoceroses mastodons, some famous science-fiction stories, and a woman in New York City who calls herself the Human Trampoline, but not for the reason Paul Simon was implying. And a great deal of American television, and some spy stories.

Although connections with actual issues of the modern world are mostly fairly sketchy, there is one trendy topic that Rushdie develops more fully, opioid abuse, something that obviously ties in with the general discussion of reality and detachment from it. And there's a tech billionaire who indulges in space-travel fantasies, but Rushdie is careful not to imply that he has anything to do with bookselling.

Depressing, uplifting, entertaining, puzzling - basically, it's the Rushdie recipe we're used to, maybe a notch darker than the last two or three books, but as rewarding and challenging as ever.
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LibraryThing member sleahey
In this ambitious picaresque, Rushdie's main character is an author who states that he is trying to write "about impossible, obsessional love, father-son relationships, sibling quarrels, and yes, unforgivable things; about Indian immigrants, racism toward them, crooks among them; about cyber spies, science fiction, the intertwining of fictional and 'real' realities, the death of the author; the end of the world." And indeed, that begins to describe this novel, although it is far greater than the sum of its parts. The novel within the novel is the story of Quichotte (Quixote) and his possibly imaginary son Sancho--but then the whole thing is imaginary, and an exploration of reality and its relationship to fantasy. The author's and Quichotte's stories are parallel, and at times it is a challenge to the reader to keep them apart, although that may not really matter. There are plenty of secrets, betrayals, infatuations, revelations, reconciliations,and redemptions to go around. The literal and figurative roads traveled take the reader on a thought-provoking and memorable journey.… (more)
LibraryThing member Clara53
Written with that unique and masterful touch of Salman Rushdie, a sharp mind that he is, and echoing the wonderful tale of Don Quixote, it's fantasy bordering on shocking reality bordering on sobering satire of the world that we inhabit.

This novel stirs a myriad of emotions as it touches on a multitude of current concerns - be it climate change, depression, love, our own mortality, politics, corruption, racism, immigration, opioid addiction - to name a few. With a simple phrase like this "Many years ago when the sea was clean and the night was safe" Rushdie evokes a poignant reality. Or just think of the phrase "Picnic on the railway track" - which says so much about the world as it is. The way he paints the picture is truly remarkable: no fake feelings or words (even though it's part fantasy), everything is raw and real with this author.

Without giving much away, I would say that the structure of the narrative is unusual. But admittedly, there is never a traditional line of story for this writer. And yet it's captivating - I didn't want it to finish. (But finish it did, with an unsettling denouement, at that...). Sancho is here too! and through him Rushdie questions the status quo, giving an innocent take on the world as Sancho sees it, poking fun (subtle and not so subtle) on politics and life in general, with his mind that goes in different directions all at the same time, as he, Sancho, is "brought to life" by the author of this "book within the book".

I want to finish with a quote from the novel about our state of affairs: "... this is the way things are these days in America: that for some of us, the world stopped making sense. Anything can happen... truth can be lies. Everything's slip-sliding around and there is nothing to hold on to. The whole thing has come apart at the seams. For some of us, who have started seeing the stuff the rest of us are too blind to see. Or too determined not to see it. For them, it's a shrug, business as usual, the Earth's still flat and the climate still isn't changing. Down there on the street, cars full of shruggers are driving around, shrugger pedestrians are walking to work..."
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LibraryThing member ozzer
Rushdie explores the misty terrain between illusion and reality with two protagonists: a novelist and his fictional creation. Parallels between the two provide opportunities to examine how difficult it can be to discern what is real from fantasy and how characters can take on lives of their own. Unfortunately, many of the themes are treated superficially, leaving the reader grasping at straws to understand Rushdie's ideas. Racism and drug abuse are clearly important themes. Both are bad, but is that all there is? Seeking forgiveness for past transgressions may be important, but it is hard to sympathize without more development. Pop culture, especially television, my contribute our failure to perceive reality. Then again, maybe not. The parallel plots are simple enough but neither seems to reach a solid resolution. Instead, we get a strange nihilistic ending that seems rushed and muddled. This is not his best work.… (more)
LibraryThing member kukulaj
I was a bit apprehensive about reading this. I think it was The Satanic Verses that I read... so many of these post-modern books jump around in such a disconnected way... I'm just not enough of an acrobat! But I needn't have feared! For sure this book jumps around plenty, but Rushdie provides enough little step stools and hand rails that even, ha, yeah, it's like I am dragging my right leg, but I didn't go crashing over any cliffs or anything.

This is very much a book of the moment, with all sorts of references to Trump, Brexit, the Sackler family, etc. All of them indirect, as I recall, but perfectly precise. On the other hand, I sadly suspect that these trends are not as evanescent as many of us would prefer, so this book may prove more timeless than it seems.

It's a great fun read. It's really human, brothers and sisters and sons and daughters. All the wild cosmic event actually highlight the intimacy instead of disintegrating it.
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LibraryThing member dooney
A book that begs to be read slowly, savoring every morsel. Sometimes I would put it aside confused by a reference that seemed just beyond my ken, until the meaning hit me and I was back. The book is fun, smart, witty, terrifying and sometime deliciously sarcastic. But it is also thought-provoking and filled with challenges. Rushdie puts his own spin on modern life, mixing our obsessions with surfaces, our yearnings for depths despite our inability to hold on to them, occasionally skirting the edges of righteous indignation, definitely riffing off of pop-culture and our overwhelming obsession with self-important events. This is a rollicking good read, but Rushdie is also an author who knows how to push the reader’s buttons. A fast-paced, and thought-provoking roller coaster of a ride.… (more)
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
Quichotte (French: key-SHOT) is Salman Rushdie's nod to Don Quixote. I've been meaning to get around to DQ for some years, but haven't quite gotten there yet. So I may have missed some important connections; that's okay, this book needs to stand on its own, right? Also, it may be worth mentioning that I haven't had the best relationship with Rushdie. He's a Booker Prize darling, so I thought I'd love his work, but Midnight's Children, his most acclaimed work, bored me to no end. Keep in mind that I've now only read two Rushdie novels, so I'm far from familiar with the breadth of his work, but frankly Rushdie reminds me of a more imaginative Philip Roth or John Irving. Certainly, they have their readership, but I'm not a fan of the meandering prose and the leering narrative.

I liked Quichotte more than I'd anticipated I would. I'd heard fans of the author say this was certainly not his best work, and since I didn't find his “best work” all that appealing, I thought this would likely be terrible. Rushdie lets his imagination run away in this metafictional romp, and that provided some level of enjoyment. Also, unlike Midnight's Children, I found the story and the characters entertaining enough to stay mildly invested. The story within a story within a story was crafted well and showed significant intelligence and creativity.

And yet it feels like this story tries too hard to be relevant and humorous. The level of absurdity reaches epic proportions from time to time. There's a scene involving the transformation of people into humanoid mastodons. Because it appeared out of nowhere, I had to read this chapter twice to make sure I hadn't misunderstood. I'm sure this scene is meant to highlight the continued existence of mob mentality akin to our prehistoric human nature or some junk. I don't know—briefcase-totting mastodons are probably best left to the likes of Murakami.

My overall feelings of Quichotte is that the novel is wildly imaginative, but lacks heart. There is what seems to be an attempt to find the pulse of “America” in these pages, an effort which involves highlighting multiple isolated events of the same ilk, ie, the prejudice and hatred of America. Rushdie displays an extensive familiarity with the America that bears the hood of hatred, but he doesn't breathe life into the dark forces, nor into those who stand in opposition. In a story about the creation of characters, Rushdie stops short of creating a soul. It's an entertaining story at its best moments, but Quichotte fails to deliver either magic or profundity.
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LibraryThing member Opinionated
Rushdie takes the main character and central premise of what was probably the world's first novel, and reimagines him in a modern American landscape on the edge of catastrophe. Here Quichotte is an Indian émigré of advancing years (much like the author himself) and the unlikely object of his quest is Salma R, Bollywood star turned US daytime chat show queen. Every Quichotte needs a Sancho Panza and in this case the Quichotte's Sancho is a son that he doesn't have, who is somehow imagined into existence.

Overlapping Quichotte's quest is the quest of his author - Sam DuChamp, mediocre spy novelist with his own quest for love, family reconciliation and redemption. Gradually the quests of the author, and his characters start to merge.

This entertaining stuff, with the familiar themes of Don Quixote adapted to an America with an opioid crisis, an existential crisis worse than a climate emergency, obsessed with real or imagined cyber-warfare and populated by tech entrepreneurs who may be geniuses or charlatans. It also has Rushdie's usual puns, exotic wordplay and references to other works (in this case Ionescu's Rhinoceros gets a lively work over).

So why then, did I find it hard to engage with for more than a few pages at a time? I don't know but I did. It took me far longer to read than it really should of done. But recommended, none the less
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LibraryThing member TheEllieMo
Rushdie and I, I feel, are destined to always have a very difficult relationship.

There is much I don’t like about the way he writes:
- he frequently feels it necessary to remind us how wonderful intelligent, well-educated and well-read he is;
- he appears to assume his readers are a little bit stupid and need things spelling out to them (yes, we are actually told, at one point, that the book is about “the destructive, mind-numbing junk culture of his own age... Impossible, obsessional love, father-son relationships, sibling quarrels,..... Indian immigrants, racism toward them, crooks among them; about cyber-spies, science fiction, the intertwining of fictional and ‘real’ realities, the death of the author, the end of the world.”;
- he comes across as really rather arrogant and pompous;
- his maxim seems to be “why use 10 words when 1,000 will do?”

More specifically, in this book, in which an author of thrillers is moving into a new genre by attempting to write some kind of Sci-Fi/Fantasy version of Don Quixote (with a bit of Pinnochio thrown in - I kid you not), the novel-within-a-novel approach has resulted in an abnormal amount of repetition. Rushdie’s fictional author is basically writing his own autobiography, word for word. So Quichotte could quite easily have been half the length it is. Except that then, it wouldn’t have been able to have the ending it had.

So, I feel I should have absolutely hated this book. There were times when I was close to giving up on it in frustration. It’s verbosity drove me mad at times.

And yet, now that I have finished it, I feel that I will suffer from a book hangover. I will miss Sam Du Champ, and Quichotte and Miss Salma R. (I won’t, to be honest, miss Sancho, though.)

In short (not a word often associated with Salman Rushdie’s novels) I did actually really enjoy this novel.
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LibraryThing member miss.mesmerized
Sam DuChamp, author of spy novels still waiting for any to succeed, attempts to write the book that has never been written before and which centres around Ismail Smile, sales executive with Smile Pharmaceuticals Inc. When Smile discovers Salma R, a highly popular TV show host – surely some pun must be intended here -, he immediately falls for her and decides to make her fall in love with him, too. First, he writes letters, then, he goes on the long journey to New York, accompanied by his teenage son Sancho, whom he only imagines. Just like Cervantes’ Quichotte, he has a quest in front of him that he is willing to complete. Sam DuChamp also has to travel, however, not to find love but to find answers for questions concerning his very own family.

“Maybe this was the human condition, to live inside fictions created by untruths or the withholding of actual truths. Maybe human life was truly fictional (...)”

In his 14th novel, Salman Rushdie is playing with fact and fiction within a fictional novel and cleverly demonstrates what we do in our so called real life to re-narrate reality, to shape it according to our needs and longings to make it take the form we would like it to have. Especially when it comes to the author’s family, we get a typical example of a family history which is told in a certain way and shaped by omission and half-truths, something that is all but unusual. Pop-culture in the form of TV has for many years created another variety of reality, everybody knows how easy it is to edit film material to get a certain message across and how easily nowadays pictures can be photoshoped to have somebody appear in a desired way. Fake news and alternative news have become a widely accepted accessory phenomenon of factual news, thus, our assumed reality is full of fiction and we are simply a part of it.

It is not just this intelligent and highly entertaining interplay between fact and fiction that makes the novel an outstanding read, it is also the masses of references to classic literature, pup culture, film, music, current issues like racism or the opioid crisis that turn the read into a roller coaster ride. His letter writing protagonist on his quest through seven valleys compulsorily seems to have fallen out of time completely - yet, that’s exactly what makes Salma R become interested in him.

Rushdie does not show the slightest respect for any limits of genre, his Quichotte is a road novel as well as a chivalric romance, popular literature and documentary of current America, philosophical essay and modern version of a great classic novel. He is most certainly known for finding literary ways of criticising the world around him in which he also succeeds with his latest novel. Apart from the plot, his witty and playful narrator adds to the humorous tone and earned him a well-deserved place on the shortlist of the 2019 Man Booker Prize.
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LibraryThing member davidroche
We seem to back in more Midnight’s Children mode than his recent novels so will that prove popular with the judges? As a Don Quixote fan I really enjoyed this book but offer no guarantees that others will do the same.
LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
Definitely my favorite by Rushdie. A crazy looped-nested-symbolic narrative and memorable characters.

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