Several years ago, I read The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie and felt very overwhelmed and outsmarted. I did enjoy the beautiful language but I think that I had problems with understanding the book because I didn’t know enough about Islam and maybe also, because I didn’t have a lot of experience with reading magical realism. Glimpses of that book has stayed with me, yet it still intimidated me enough to stay away from Rushdie’s novels ever since. So just like when I read Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, this was a test to see if Rushdie’s works are for me.
And it turns out, they are. I really enjoyed reading Shalimar the Clown. First of, it’s beautifully written – Rushdie has a magnificent grasp of the language and really uses it to make his points. There are sections where he breaks it up and changes it completely to underline what’s happening in the story. It’s so skillfully done. He’s truly a master of his arts.
Secondly, it’s a both fascinating and interesting story. On a background of the conflict in Kashmihr between hindus and muslims, between India and Palestine, the lives of Boonyi, Shalimar and Max unfold. But this is not where we start. It begins in Los Angeles where India Ophuls’ father Max, is killed on her door step by his chauffeur, Shalimar the Clown. Rushdie then takes us back in time to explain why Shalimar killed Max. Shalimar was once a young happy muslim boy, completely in love with Boonyi, a young hindu girl. They loved each other very much and was therefore allowed to marry, but for Boonyi, life in the tiny village in Kashmir is not enough so when she gets a chance to get out, she takes it. Even when it means that she becomes the American ambassador’s mistress. She leaves Shalimar and deeply crushed, he vows to kill her and any child she might get and he joins various terrorist groups in order to learn how to kill – and to wait for the right time to kill Boonyi. When Boonyi gets pregnant, a huge scandal erupts, and ultimately, Max’s wife leaves him – and leaves India with his and Boonyi’s child, a girl she names India.
The way Rushdie manages to tell the story of these people, is superb. He makes them all believable, they change and grow and you believe that they could – and would – evolve in the ways, they do. There are quite a few supporting characters, all with their own identity and voice. Even though the book has a political message about the destruction of Kashmir and about how little it takes to destroy relations between various groups, when tragedy and disaster strikes, Rushdie still manages to keep the story well-paced and the sections discussion more political issues, feel integrated in the novel. There are some elements of magical realism in the story and they work to emphasize the rest of the story, as well as how the people of Kashmir think and see the world.
In some ways, this can be seen as a retelling of the story of Paradise. Kashmir as the Garden of Eden, Shalimar and Boonyi as Adam and Eva, and Max, the first TV in the valley and other things as the snake who tricks Boonyi away from Eden and into a modern world filled with possibilities for temptation and sin. Due to a huge sacrifice, she’s allowed to return – but Paradise has changed too, just like she has.
It’s also a book investigating terrorism and how peaceful tolerant countries can suddenly be caught up in violence and conflict, it’s an attempt to understand what makes people become terrorists and how sometimes, it only takes a small incitement or a personal crisis to turn people. It investigates how people react when they are suddenly told how to dress and act and the length people are willing to go to to make other people act as they see fit. Rushdie also looks at how the decisions on nation level influence the ordinary people and the role of the military.
When reading this, I kept feeling it was a 4 stars book. Even though I really loved it, it still felt like 4 stars. And I think the main reason for that is, that I’m sure Salman Rushdie has written better books, even better books. Books, I want to rate 5 stars. I’m really looking forward to reading another Rushdie novel – and he has made it to the list of my potential favorite authors. I just need to read a few more books by him to see if he can make it onto the list of favorites.
When reading Shalimar the Clown in bed late at night, you’re not able to just put the characters away as you do the book when you’re done reading. Instead they stay with you and you think about their life and fates as you drift closer and closer to sleep. And as you slowly starts sleeping, not quite though, and as you loose your hold on reality and starts to enter the realms of dreams, you get closer to Boonyi in her small hut with her goats, struggling with addiction, trying to live while being dead, fighting to grasp reality again. Luckily, she has her dead mother to help her. And luckily, I have Rushdie’s beautiful words to let me know the story of these amazing characters.
- Title: Shalimar the Clown
- Author: Salman Rushdie
- Publisher: Jonathan Cape
- Year: 2005
- Pages: 398 pages
- Source: Own Collection
- Stars: 4 stars out of 5