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Which basically means that I usually end up drunk and getting laid, or sober and not. Since I'm still waiting on a replacement liver, it's more often the latter. So for once, I was sober, pathetic and browsing through books at Kinokuniya, and I was reaching for Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot when a hand brushed against me, for the same copy.
I turned and apologized to a rather cute person, who smiled and said 'No problem.' Next thing you know, we were talking about books, and one thing after another, I was buying a book and sitting myself at TCC reading Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie that the person had recommended. Person was promptly forgotten.
I figured it had to be a really good book for that person to recommend it so highly, so I didn't want to waste any time. (You didn't actually think I was gonna tell you a story about picking up someone, right? This is a book review section.)
Shalimar the Clown is, in short, a book of extremism. Everything in it, from the hyperbole of famous satirist Salman Rushdie, to the fantastic characters in the book reeks of extremism. Of course, this is intentional, but the alienation that is produced to some extent as a result makes you somewhat like watching a play by Brecht: slightly disoriented and completely separated from the author and characters.
What Shalimar the Clown is about ultimately is revenge. Much like Ur-Hamlet, or Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Shalimar is a story of a revenge long planned by one of the main characters, Shalimar, on Max Ophuls, hero of the Resistance, political person, Ambassador to India.
The reason for the murder? A girl named Boonyi, whom Shalimar loved, and who abandoned him to have an affair with Max Ophuls. The book proceeds to head into the past to decipher the reason for his death, with Max's daughter, India, as the main seeker of truth. The allegorical relationships are difficult to miss.
Rushdie goes a long way to emphasize the carnage of World War II and fundamentalist terrorism, and its needless and often pointless violence.
The focus with which Shalimar pursues his vow is representative of the behaviour of terrorists, but also makes him rather one-faceted, although one should bear in mind that he is Shalimar the Clown, a simple-minded person. The concept of colonial oppression is ever-present in the book, and the dual oppression of women in this position suggested, though not truly developed.
It is easy to read aspects of Rushdie's own life into this book, but to do so would be to simplify the plot into an autobiography of sorts. The geographical locale of the characters is important, and should not be ignored.
As Rushdie's book shifts from place to place, the way the characters behave change. India's move to Los Angeles makes for an interesting reading of repeated colonisation, and a possible satire on the source of violence which Max Ophuls as the ambassador appears to suggest.
Rushdie's book is full of symbols of one sort or another, and that is perhaps the draw of the book that allows it to survive the violence of mass murder and revenge. The re-telling of history in this book reminds us of Marquez's style of writing, and is reality and fantasy both at once.
Yet I cannot help but read an almost saintly concept of aViolence drives more violence' kind of mantra behind this book, although it does not delve into severe details of razed villages and murdered politicians. It is rather appropriate that the book has been released not too long ago, entirely suitable for the clime of today.
The book doesn't try to justify excessiveness, instead forcing it on you until you recognize it for what it is, and perhaps hoping that your self-recognition of the excess will drive you to do something about it. Shalimar ultimately survives its own excessiveness, a remarkable feat.