Ron's Reviews > Shalimar the Clown

Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
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Apr 02, 12


It feels like there are at least three novels compressed into this one account of an American ambassador, a dancing girl, their daughter, and an Islamist hit man. Following the lives of these and a host of other characters, Rushdie's story covers large swaths of European and Indo-Pakistan (Kashmir) history while beginning and ending in modern-day Los Angeles. Taken together in all its interwoven narratives, its theme is the politics of gender in the twentieth century, and it poses the thesis that Islamist insurgency is driven chiefly by the rage, jealousy, and fear of dishonor that originate in the cultural gulf between men and women. The war of terrorism resolves finally in this brilliantly entertaining novel to a murderous final encounter between a man and a woman.

While Rushdie's story relies for much of its substance on the conflict between India and Pakistan over the territory of Kashmir, high in the Himalayas that lie above both nations, the Western reader is easily immersed in its cultural complexities and its history through story after story about people who are both "foreign" and recognizably human. Meanwhile, the ordinary and everyday mix with comedy, tragedy, historical fact and magical realism, and the reader is hurried through a portrayal of events without time to tell truth from illusion. Rushdie's achievement is his ability to illuminate a very nonfictional global-scale conflict through a fictional narrative graced at every turn by the finest art of compelling and witty storytelling. Like his title character, Shalimar, Rushdie keeps you turning the pages with his breathtaking high-wire act.
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