Saturday, February 17, 2007

Shalimar the Clown, by Salman Rushdie

Shalimar the Clown - Salman Rushdie

If you have ever had occasion to read a work of Salman Rushdie, you will know what a challenge that can be. Rushdie is not for the mentally lazy.

However, if you take the time to get into his work, you will be rewarded with stories that are rich, imagery that is breathtaking and characters who are multidimensional. All three of these are present in Shalimar the Clown.

Shalimar traces the life of an ordinary theatre performer who grew up in the dipsuted Kashmir province of India (or ...Pakistan) an area that is frequently described throughout the novel as a mountainous winter wonderland. All is good with Shalimar, the main character and his life seems perfect when the family of the beautiful Boonyi accept his marriage proposal.

However, life takes a turn for the worse for Shalimar at the same time as Kashmir is plunged into darkness through war end ethnic conflict. Boonyi is seduced by the American Ambassador to India, Max Ophuls, whose own life Rushdie describes in a historical context that keeps the reader rivetted. Boonyi would bear the Ambassador a daughter, with whom the novel both begins and ends. As his village is engulfed in the violence that was and is the India-Pakistan conflict - exacerbated by the newly-minted Indian general, Hammirdev Kachhaha, whose affections Boonyi had spurned years before, Shalimar swears his revenge.

The non-linear novel reads like a Quentin Tarantino film, jumping in parts from one historical period to the other; beginning with modern-day Los Angeles and Shalimar's ultimate vindication over his romantic rival, Max Ophuls, jumping back to Second World War Vichy France and the coming-of-age of the German-born Ambassador, to the interim decades in peaceful and then war-torn Kashmir, and then coming full-circle to modern-day Los Angeles and the realization of India/Kashmir Ophuls of the checkered history of her family.

As difficult as the story is sometimes to follow - again, the reader must be patient and attentive with Rushdie, it is a fantastic story for those who are interested in modern Asian (and European) history and for those who just like a good story of love, betrayal and revenge.

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