BookBrowse Reviews Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie

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Shalimar The Clown

by Salman Rushdie

Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 416 pages

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A gripping international tale of love and revenge, and the ancient and modern conflicts from which they spring

From the book jacket: Los Angeles, 1991. Ambassador Maximilian Ophuls, one of the makers of the modern world, is murdered in broad daylight on his illegitimate daughter India's doorstep, slaughtered by a knife wielded by his Kashmiri Muslim driver, a mysterious figure who calls himself Shalimar the clown. The dead man is a charismatic World War Two Resistance hero, a man of formidable intellectual ability, a former US 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 Ophuls, his killer and his daughter — and of a fourth character, the woman who links them, whose story finally explains them all. It is an epic narrative that moves from California to Kashmir, from Nazi-occupied Europe to the world of modern terrorism. Along the way there is kindness, and magic capable of producing miracles; there is also war — ugly, unavoidable and seemingly interminable. And there is always love, gained and lost, uncommonly beautiful and mortally dangerous.

Comment: Rushdie, one of the most prominent novelists of today, proves that he's still got what it takes 30 years after the publication of his first novel, with this exploration of the clash of faiths and cultures, and the roots of terrorism.  The core questions at the heart of Shalimar the Clown are how a nation can go from a state of religious and peaceful acceptance to violence in just a few years, and what causes a man to become a terrorist.  In terms of genre, Shalimar is difficult to categorize as it combines many elements - take one part political thriller, one part wartime adventure, slosh in some allegory and magical realism (but with substantially more punch than most books labeled as magical realism), add a touch of comedy and the classic Indian epic Ramayana, round it off with a dollop of pop culture and have Salman Rushdie liberally stir the pot, and you have Shalimar The Clown.  None of us have the time for all the books we want to read, but if this book (or others by Rushdie) are currently sitting on your "should read" list, consider moving them up to your "must read" list post haste!

"The 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 spent under police protection, hunted by zealots, have been poured into the novel in ways which ring hideously true. . . . Shalimar the Clown is a powerful parable about the willing and unwilling subversion of multiculturalism." - Publishers Weekly.

"..... unforgettably dramatized, in a magical-realist masterpiece that equals, and arguably surpasses, the achievements of Midnight's Children, Shame and The Moor's Last Sigh. The Swedes won't dare to offend Islam by giving Rushdie the Nobel Prize he deserves more than any other living writer. Injustice rules." - Kirkus.

Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 19 June 1947. He went to school in Bombay and at Rugby (a private boarding school in England), after which he read History at King's College, Cambridge, where he joined the Cambridge Footlights theatre company. After graduating, he lived with his family who had moved to Pakistan in 1964, and worked briefly in television before returning to England, beginning work as a copywriter for an advertising agency. His first novel, Grimus, was published in 1975.

His nine novels include Midnight's Children, The Satanic Verses, The Moor's Last Sigh, Fury, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet; he has also written a collection of short stories; a book of reportage; two volumes of essays; and a work of film criticism. He is also co-author (with Tim Supple and Simon Reade) of the stage adaptation of Midnight's Children, premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2002.  During his 30 year writing career he has received multiple awards including the 'Booker of Bookers' Prize for Midnight's Children in 1993.

This review was originally published in October 2005, and has been updated for the October 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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