Book: Shalimar the clown - Livre d'Or — LiveJournal

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Book: Shalimar the clown
Monday, 08 September 2008 at 03:26 pm
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Author: Salman Rushdie

Details: (c) Salman Rushdie 2005; Pub Vintage 2006; ISBN 0-099-42188-7

Verdict: Shalimar the clown is powerfully written but depressing.

Reasons for reading it: I'm a big fan of Rushdie anyway, and this book got some good press when it came out.

How it came into my hands: Useful Cambridge charity shops. And it turns out the copy I picked up is signed, which isn't a big deal, but rather pleasing to have a book signed by an author I so admire.

I was going to describe Shalimar the clown as a tragedy, since the out of chronological order in which the story is told makes every pleasant thing that happens a foreshadowing of the depressing outcome. But then I read this post of truepenny's and decided it's actually almost a revenge tragedy. The personal tragedy of the murder of Max Ophuls which opens the book, and all the other deaths of everyone connected to Shalimar, is intertwined very skillfully with the political tragedy of the destruction of the paradise of Kashmir as it becomes caught up in the power struggle between India and Pakistan. The characterization is absolutely beautiful, and the book as a whole is almost unbearably poignant.

The narrative voice seems to refrain from judging any of the characters; it's a book about people who do any number of terrible things from infidelity to genocide, yet everybody is portrayed with such sympathy that you feel as if you can almost understand their motivations. Even the bellicose, ludicrous General Kachhwaha seems like a real person, not just a personification of why war is evil. At the same time, the book is absolutely relentless in conveying the human suffering that results from military repression and terrorism.

So it's an extremely painful book to read, however much the skill is admirable. In some ways it feels similar in tone to Midnight's children, though the magic realism / surreality is a more minor note and I found the book as a whole much more comprehensible. And there's all kinds of clever stories within stories and playing with Hindu mythology and allusions (I'm sure I'm missing most of them) and various plot arcs connected to make a multi-faceted whole. There's even a little bit of Holocaust stuff, with the death of Ophuls' parents in Nazi occupied France. I'm not quite sure whether that section enhances the book or not; perhaps it is meant to connect the distant, almost "exotic" tragedy of Kashmir with something more familiar and resonant for a European audience? The ending manages to be satisfying, even cathartic, in spite of the devastation portrayed (which it doesn't try to redeem with false optimism).

I think StC comes close to being the literary equivalent of Guernica, acutally. The prose is incredibly effective, often sexy, and there's all this skill to build up a picture of emotional, visceral horror.

While I'm on the subject, can somebody explain to me why the media (not just the mainstream US media, but most of the world media that's on my radar, and most of the so-called independent media and blogs) is devoting so much verbiage to gosspping about the Palin family soap opera, and paying almost no attention to the sudden upswing in American military action in Pakistan? Priorities!

Whereaboooots: Pachigam
Moooood: depresseddepressed
Tuuuuune: Kate Rusby: A rose in April
Discussion: 2 contributions | Contribute something
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hairyears: default
Date:September 10th, 2008 08:10 am (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 08:10 am (hairyears's time)
The Palin story is a media circus generating a steady stream of manufactured stories - most of them pre-written as press-packs for lazy journalists and distributed in hostile 'briefings' by the PR teams of various political and religious factions.

By contrast, reporting the war in Afghanistan and it's overspill into Pakistan requires travel and a reporter on the scene in a difficult and dangerous (and expensive!) place. It is very difficult to operate in this kind of war zone without becoming an 'embedded reporter', surrounded by US troops and seeing only the things that your handlers permit you to see... Much of which will be repetitive and dull, calculated to induce in the readers and viewers 'back home' a surreal sense that the war is a distant and remote affair, not just geographically, but politically and emotionally. Hence the strange lack of media and political engagement with a war that involves a quarter of our armed forces and which is, by some measures, well beyond the low-intensity warfare of an insurgency: there's no big set-piece battles like (say) the Tet offensive but there are hundreds and hundreds of smaller raids and skirmishes and ambushes. But a journalist would need to know that, and would need to report it with some kind of analysis - difficult when you can't name any of the major players, can't interview them, don't know their agenda and - critically - are too lazy to find out and wearily aware that anything you ever did send back will be spiked by an editor with a political agenda of his own and a mission to fill the gaps between the adverts with celebrity gossip.

For what it's worth, the war in Afghanistan has always been about Pakistan - both the Tribal Areas on the Frontier, which have been a lawless safe haven for the Taliban; and Islamabad, with a government and its self-financing intelligence service that largely created the Taliban and fomented the chaos in it's neighbour to the West... And are quietly supporting insurgencies in their neighbour to the South-East, too.

The problem is that Pakistan is collapsing: extremists are gaining the upper hand and rendering the country ungovernable, the army is no longer capable of ruling or even controlling the country, the economy is is in free-fall and there is no civic society capable of keeping things going. So the whole country is becoming it's own North-West Frontier... A worrying thought in a Nuclear power and military ally of China, engaged in a major insurgency on two fronts and in a state of cease-fire (but not peace) in it's armed conflict with India.

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pointilliste: Svendsen neurons and astrocytes
Date:September 17th, 2008 01:41 am (UTC)
7 days after journal entry, 12:41 pm (pointilliste's time)
Thanks for the review. I've been wondering where to start with Salman Rushdie, and this seems like a good spot to jump in.
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