Synopses & Reviews
Shalimar the Clown
is a masterpiece from one of our greatest writers, a dazzling novel that brings together the fiercest passions of the heart and the gravest conflicts of our time into an astonishingly powerful, all-encompassing story.
Max Ophuls’ memorable life ends violently in Los Angeles in 1993 when he is murdered by his Muslim driver Noman Sher Noman, also known as Shalimar the Clown. At first the crime seems to be politically motivated – Ophuls was previously ambassador to India, and later US counterterrorism chief – but it is much more.
Ophuls is a giant, an architect of the modern world: a Resistance hero and best-selling author, brilliant economist and clandestine US intelligence official. But it is as Ambassador to India that the seeds of his demise are planted, thanks to another of his great roles – irresistible lover. Visiting the Kashmiri village of Pachigam, Ophuls lures an impossibly beautiful dancer, the ambitious (and willing) Boonyi Kaul, away from her husband, and installs her as his mistress in Delhi. But their affair cannot be kept secret, and when Boonyi returns home, disgraced and obese, it seems that all she has waiting for her is the inevitable revenge of her husband: Noman Sher Noman, Shalimar the Clown. He was an acrobat and tightrope walker in their village’s traditional theatrical troupe; but soon Shalimar is trained as a militant in Kashmir’s increasingly brutal insurrection, and eventually becomes a terrorist with a global remit and a deeply personal mission of vengeance.
With sweeping brilliance, Salman Rushdie portrays fanatical mullahs as fully as documentary filmmakers, rural headmen as completely as British spies; he describes villages that compete to make the most splendid feasts, the mentality behind martial law, and the celebrity of Los Angeles policemen, all with the same genius.
But the main story is only part of the story. In this stunningly rich book everything is connected, and everyone is a part of everyone else. Shalimar the Clown is a true work of the era of globalization, intricately mingling lives and countries, and finding unexpected and sometimes tragic connections between the seemingly disparate. The violent fate of Kashmir recalls Strasbourg’s experience in World War Two; Resistance heroism against the Nazis counterpoints Al-Qaeda’s terror in Pakistan, North Africa and the Philippines. 1960s Pachigam is not so far from post-war London, or the Hollywood-driven present-day Los Angeles where Max’s daughter by Boonyi, India Ophuls, beautiful, strong-willed, modern, waits, as vengeance plays itself out.
A powerful love story, intensely political and historically informed, Shalimar the Clown is also profoundly human, an involving story of people’s lives, desires and crises – India Ophuls’ desperate search for her real mother, for example; Max’s wife’s attempts to deal with his philandering – as well as, in typical Rushdie fashion, a magical tale where the dead speak and the future can be foreseen.
Shalimar the Clown is steeped in both the Hindu epic Ramayana and the great European novelists, melding the storytelling traditions of east and west into a magnificently fruitful blend – and serves, itself, as a corrective to the destructive clashes of values it scorchingly depicts. Enthralling, comic and amazingly abundant, it will no doubt come to be seen as one of the key books of our time.
The second portent came on the morning of the murder, when Shalimar the driver approached Max Ophuls at breakfast, handed him his schedule card for the day, and gave in his notice. The ambassador’s drivers tended to be short-term appointees, inclined to move on to new adventures in pornography or hairdressing, and Max was inured to the cycle of acquisition and loss. This time, however, he was shaken, though he did not care to show it. He concentrated on his day’s appointments, trying not to let the card shake. He knew Shalimar’s real name. He knew the village he came from and the story of his life. He knew the intimate connection between his own scandalous past and this grave unscandalous man who never laughed in spite of the creased eyes that hinted at a happier past, this man with a gymnast’s body and a tragedian’s face who had slowly become more of a valet than a mere driver, a silent yet utterly solicitous body servant who understood what Max needed before he knew it himself, the lighted cigar that materialized just as he was reaching for the humidor, the right cuff-links that were laid out on his bed each morning with the perfect shirt, the ideal temperature for his bathwater, the right times to be absent as well as the correct moments to appear. The ambassador was carried back to his Strasbourgeois childhood years in a Belle Époque mansion near the now-destroyed old synagogue, and found himself marvelling at the rebirth in this man from a distant mountain valley. . . .
—from Shalimar the Clown
"[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 Reviews
"To characterize the novel as 'rich' seems inadequately broad as a general description of a Rushdie book....His beautifully metaphoric language and sly sense of humor keep his complex plot, with its layers of personal and cosmic meaning, tightly woven." Booklist
"[T]he author's allegory-making machinery clanks and wheezes....Shalimar the Clown is hobbled by Mr. Rushdie's determination to graft huge political and cultural issues onto a flimsy soap opera plot....[An] ambitious but ham-handed novel." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Shalimar the Clown is a book without a center; it is more like a dragon that consumes its tail as it proceeds forward....Once readers accept this kind of destabilization, they can enjoy moments of hope in this book for what they truly are: moments." Boston Globe
"[T]he strongest parts...give lust and betrayal their primal due. Regrettably, the author's got bigger ideas....Trumping up connections from his love triangle to a half century's worth of geopolitics, Salman Rushdie overwhelms his own characters. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Less antic in its fabulism than his controversial The Satanic Verses, less self-conscious and fragmented than the Booker Prize-winning Indian opus Midnight's Children, the new work is fiercely focused and, for Rushdie, understated." Miami Herald
"Rushdie simply delivers more of a wallop in one novel than most writers achieve ever. If Rushdie's novels like Midnight's Children and The Moor's Last Sigh are embedded in your brain, you will adore Shalimar the Clown. There is an epic sweep to Shalimar." USA Today
"Rushdie's greatest novel since The Satanic Verses....There is nothing cutesy here, no pages of puns to hide the naked pain of the horrors that one house can inflict on another, but transparent, extraordinary writing." Los Angeles Times
"The book deftly mixes dark comedy with high politics, sex and war and terror, romance and mythology. It never flags...and while not a great novel it is certainly close enough to greatness that it demonstrates to us once again...that, as Herman Melville said, great novels demand great themes." Chicago Tribune
"A masterpiece a beautiful, painful, terrifying book, both fantastical and harshly realistic, filled with complex and memorable characters, and completely unpredictable in its blend of political thriller, folktale, melodrama, reportage and even science fiction." Seattle Times
"Prepare for magic when reading Shalimar the Clown, the kind of magic that comes from a novelist weaving a story worthy of his genius and the kind of magic that comes from a novel that opens you to seeing the world as you never supposed. I have warned you." Detroit Free Press
"As Kashmir collapses into chaos, one beleaguered onlooker croaks, 'We are no longer protagonists, only agonists.' That bit of dialogue says much about Shalimar the Clown
, Salman Rushdie's new novel, a devastating if at times heavy-handed examination of a doomed love and doomed region. Mr. Rushdie embraces big themes, endless allusions and puns, folklore, and anything else handy in his estimable arsenal while exploring everyone and everything from Clytemnestra and the Koran to Bretton Woods and Bugatti." Erik Spanberg, Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire Christian Science Monitor review
"The quixotic quest for a new hybrid literary form seems to pit Rushdie in a rebellion against the history of the novel itself, a regression to Arthurian romance and staged melodramas....The global novel must appeal to the greatest number; the modern masses of Mumbai, New York, London and their provinces demand spectacle, so let us give the people what they want. Since they all seem to want to watch movies, novels should become as much like movies as possible, all the while winking in homage to the new master art form." Marco Roth, Times Literary Supplement
(read the entire times Literary Supplement review
In this gripping international tale of love and revenge, and the ancient and modern conflicts from which they spring, a murder looks at first like a political assassination, but turns out to be passionately personal.
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 II 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.
About the Author
Salman Rushdie is the author of eight previous novels Grimus, Midnight's Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and the "Booker of Bookers"), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor's Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, and Fury and one collection of short stories, East, West. He has also published five works of non-fiction: The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands, The Wizard of Oz, Mirrorwork, and Step Across This Line.