Book Reviews

Rushdie's 'Shalimar the Clown' Splits Time Zones

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Salman Rushdie's latest book is Shalimar the Clown, a story that mixes dark comedy with high politics and takes place between Los Angeles and Kashmir. Alan Cheuse has a review.


International politics and diplomacy play a large role in Salman Rushdie's latest novel, "Shalimar the Clown." It's set mainly in Los Angeles and Kashmir. Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE reporting:

`Twenty-four-year-old heroine India Ophuels, languishing in her LA apartment,' opens the novel. Her father, European-born American diplomat, Max Ophuels, named apparently after the late film director, named her after the subcontinent to which he was posted as American ambassador. That's where after seeing her mother Boonyi perform, he fell resoundingly in love with her, except that the Kashmiri dancer Boonyi happened to be married to Noman, a traveling performer with the stage name of Shalimar the Clown--a lot of names but worth remembering.

Their story takes on the question of, as Rushdie puts it, `how it came about that a faithless wife from the village of the Bon Pather(ph),' a performing troupe of Hindu Kashmiris, `began to influence, to complicate and even to shape American diplomatic activity regarding the vexed matter of Kashmir.' The love affair nicely shapes the novel. From village politics to regional politics to national politics to world politics, the novel's lens widens even as it sharpens the focus on the major characters and on many minor figures. Village louts, Indian generals, American presidents and Pakistani dictators populate the satirical, fictional opera with a deep heart.

Sometimes the language can get a little too essayistic, but at its best "Shalimar the Clown" deftly mixes dark comedy with high politics, sex and war and terror, romance and mythology. And towards the end Rushdie's prose rises to moving, chantlike crescendos, as after the painful and dramatic depictions of terrorist banditry and reprisals in war-torn Kashmir. `Who lit that fire that burned India's mother's village to the ground?' the writer asks. `Who burned that orchard? Who shot those brothers who laughed their whole lives long? Who shot those boys? Who shot those girls? Who smashed that house? Who knifed that aunt? Who broke that old man's nose? Who broke that young girl's heart? Who killed that lover?' As you read passages such as these, you mourn and you celebrate.

BLOCK: The book is "Shalimar the Clown" by Salman Rushdie. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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