Review

Shalimar the Clown

by Salman Rushdie



Tolerance and intolerance are often both passionate. At either end
of this spectrum of love and hatred are kindness and violence. In
between, at least in Salman Rushdie's latest novel, is the valley
of Kashmir.

In SHALIMAR THE CLOWN, tolerance and intolerance clash in Kashmir
as a tragic love story unfolds. Boonyi, a beautiful young Hindu
dancer, and Noman Sher Noman (also known as Shalimar the Clown), a
handsome Muslim tightrope walker, fall in love in the village of
Pachigam. Despite their religious differences they are allowed to
marry after their relationship is discovered. The Hindus and
Muslims of Pachigam are one undivided community and feel that the
marriage of the two symbolizes the harmony of the village. But soon
after she weds Shalimar, Boonyi begins to long for more than what
rural life can offer her.

When she dances for the charming and powerful American ambassador
to India, Max Ophuls, Boonyi sees him as her ticket out of her
village home and into freedom. Max sets her up in an apartment far
from Kashmir, but she has neither the discipline for the education
he provides for her nor the talent to become a famous dancer. She
longs for Kashmir and Pachigam but, shamed, cannot go back home.
Her homesickness and the realization that she is being used by
Ophuls as a sexual object drives her to many addictions: food,
tobacco and drugs. The once beautiful and graceful Boonyi grows
ugly, sick and obese, and then finds herself pregnant.

Boonyi eventually makes her way home to Pachigam, but without her
daughter. In her absence she has been declared dead and so returns
to the village a ghost. In the meantime Shalimar has hardened with
hate and rage, and has vowed to kill both Boonyi and Ophuls. He
becomes a soldier and an assassin fighting against Hindus in
Kashmir, and eventually he too makes his way home to
Pachigam.

SHALIMAR THE CLOWN weaves the story of Boonyi and Shalimar in and
out of the story of modern Kashmir. Both the relationship and the
region are full of love and passion as well as violence and hatred.
We follow both the wonderfully written Max Ophuls and the daughter
he has with Boonyi (less developed and so far less interesting than
many other characters) across the world to California where we meet
Shalimar one last time.

Rushdie's latest novel is complex and wordy, full of names and
places, history and mythology, and hard-to-remember military and
political acronyms. Readers are immersed in a Kashmir rich and
conflicted, a place of elaborate feasts, traditional entertainment,
wonderful stories, age-old superstitions, diverse religious beliefs
and bloody battles. All the characters are compelling and the story
itself is interesting. However, SHALIMAR THE CLOWN is not as
successful as such classic Rushdie novels as MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN
and THE SATANIC VERSES. The prose is too heavy, too contrived in
places, and thus here and there the novel is not quite
readable.

But for those willing to indulge Rushdie in his idiosyncratic
(sometimes dull, sometimes confusing, always original) style,
SHALIMAR THE CLOWN is great storytelling worth reading. Not only
does Rushdie give readers an honest exploration of love and
heartache, he also sets it against the brutality, hatred and fear
of contemporary terrorism and the very real struggle for
Kashmir.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 23, 2011

Shalimar the Clown
by Salman Rushdie

  • Publication Date: October 10, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0679783482
  • ISBN-13: 9780679783480