Reading guide for Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie

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Shalimar The Clown

by Salman Rushdie

Shalimar The Clown
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 416 pages
    Oct 2006, 416 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Several characters in Shalimar the Clown are known by two or more names: Shalimar/Noman Sher Noman; Boonyi/Bhoomi; India/Kashmira; Peggy /“The Grey Rat.” What is the significance of these multiple names? What is the relationship between given names and nicknames or names that characters choose for themselves?

  2. The novel presents many examples of different types of magic, some more potent than others: Olga Volga’s potato magic; Nazarebaddoor’s ability to see into the future; Firdaus’s snake charms; the Seventh Sarkar’s attempt to make an entire garden vanish. Why do so many characters believe in and rely on magic? Is the reader meant to believe that their magic is real? Does it need to be real in order to have effect?

  3. Nazarebaddor and General Kachhwaha are blessed (or cursed) with the abilities of perfect foresight and perfect memory, respectively. Whose gift is more powerful/valuable? Why do both characters end up suffering because of their talents? What is Rushdie trying to say about the nature of the past and the future?

  4. Rushdie portrays love as a profound, complex, potentially dangerous emotion. In the world of this novel, does true love exist? Or is love negated by distrust and infidelity? Is love inherently impassioned and therefore volatile, or can it be untroubled?

  5. As represented by the Banquet of the Thirty-Six Courses Minimum, the acts of preparing and consuming food stand as symbols of tradition, wealth, and power. How does Rushdie achieve this effect? What does it say about the people of Pachigam and Shirmal? Discuss the psychology of Boonyi’s addiction to food while she is living in New Delhi.

  6. At the beginning of the “Boonyi” chapter, young Shalimar learns about the shadow planets, Rahu and Ketu, which, we are told, “existed without actually existing” and were able to “bend destiny to their will.” Do these otherworldly phenomena assert themselves in this world? If so, who seems the most affected by these forces?

  7. How does the story of Max’s heroism in Europe during the 1930s and 40s connect to later events in Kashmir and Los Angeles? How, if at all, does World War II differ from India and Pakistan’s struggle for Kashmir or the assault on the West by Islamic terrorists? Is Rushdie saying that there are the universal characteristics of war? Does he think that peace is ever possible?

  8. The novel presents many variations on the idea of family–traditional nuclear families, broken families, adoptive families, multicultural families. How do the circumstances of each character’s upbringing determine or shape his or her future? Is heritage destiny?

  9. Rushdie describes Los Angeles as a “decentered promiscuous sprawl,” “a hidden city, a city of strangers,” a “veiled and difficult place,” the “erotic capital of the obscure stratagem.” Compare this depiction of the city with the structure of the novel itself, with its multiple locations and shifting perspectives. Why did Rushdie choose to organize the story in this way?

  10. What is the relationship between repentance and forgiveness in the novel? Why can unrepentant Max be forgiven by his daughter while Shalimar cannot forgive repentant Boonyi?

  11. Despite differences in culture, language, and location, the characters find means of communicating with each other. What are some of the ways in which they do this? Is their communication strictly verbal? What is the purpose of communication for characters so fiercely driven by and devoted to their own ambitions?

  12. Play-acting, or assuming a persona, is a motif throughout the text. Abdullah is an actor, Shalimar a circus performer, Max an undercover agent. How does this professional misrepresentation affect the characters’ private lives?

  13. Considering the actions and fates of the characters in Shalimar the Clown, is revenge ever justifiable? How is Shalimar’s quest for vengeance different from India’s? Do they accomplish what they had hoped to?

  14. At the end of the novel, does India kill Shalimar? Why are the final passages cryptic? Does the author view the future as predetermined, or is it possible to break the cycle?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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