Summary and book reviews of Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie

Shalimar The Clown

by Salman Rushdie

Shalimar The Clown
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 416 pages

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Book Summary

From one of the leading literary figures of our time, a gripping international tale of love and revenge, and the ancient and modern conflicts from which they spring.

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.

Everything is unsettled. Everything is connected. Lives are uprooted, names keep changing — nothing is permanent. The story of anywhere is also the story of everywhere else. Spanning the globe and darting through history, Rushdie's narrative captures the heart of the reader and the spirit of a troubled age.


Author statement

'It seems to me, more and more, that the fictional project on which I've been involved ever since I began Midnight's Children back in 1975 is one of self-definition. That novel, Shame and The Satanic Verses strike me as an attempt to come to terms with the various component parts of myself - countries, memories, histories, families, gods. First the writer invents the books; then, perhaps, the books invent the writer.

But whenever I say anything about my work I want to contradict myself at once. To say that beyond self-exploration lies a sense of writing as sacrament, and maybe that's closer to how I feel: that writing fills the hole left by the departure of God.

But, again, I love story, and comedy, and dreams. And newness: the novel, as its name suggests, is about the making of the new.

None of this is quite true; all of it is true enough.'

Chapter 1

At twenty-four the ambassador's daughter slept badly through the warm, unsurprising nights. She woke up frequently and even when sleep did come her body was rarely at rest, thrashing and flailing as if trying to break free of dreadful invisible manacles. At times she cried out in a language she did not speak. Men had told her this, nervously. Not many men had ever been permitted to be present while she slept. The evidence was therefore limited, lacking consensus; however, a pattern emerged. According to one report she sounded guttural, glottal-stoppy, as if she were speaking Arabic. Night-Arabian, she thought, the dreamtongue of Scheherazade. Another version described her words as science-fictional, like Klingon, like a throat being cleared in a galaxy far, far away. Like Sigourney Weaver channeling a demon in Ghostbusters. One night in a spirit of research the ambassador's daughter left a tape recorder running by her bedside but when she heard the ...

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (128 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.

Kirkus Reviews

A masterly deployment of interconnected narratives spanning six decades. . . . Dazzling. . . . 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.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

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.

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Beyond the Book

Did you know?
The 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie proclaimed by Ayatollah Khomeini (then leader of Iran) triggered by the publication of The Satantic Verses in 1988, has never been lifted.  In fact, it was reaffirmed in 2005 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's current spiritual leader, and again in February 2006 when the government-run Matyrs Foundation announced, "The fatwa by Imam Khomeini in regards to the apostate Salman Rushdie will be in effect forever ..... The book The Satanic Verses was the incarnation of the satanic plots of the World Arrogance (United States) and the occupying Zionists which appeared through the sleeves of this apostate".  Another of Iran's foundations has offered a USA $2.8...

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