Friday, June 20, 2008

Shalimar The Clown

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Salman Rushdie's probably in his declining years, as evidenced by his performance with one of his newest books entitled "Shalimar The Clown." Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Rusdhie's work - although I've never read "Midnight's Children," his ouvre, due to the sheer length of the book, I've read and enjoyed most of his other works, most notable of which would be his short story collection "East, West" and one of the newer novels, "Fury."

Now, it isn't that I didn't enjoy "Shalimar the Clown." There were parts that were just pure, solid Rushdie in action, sequences of events that evoked a cultural upheaval of the imagination, where the depiction of the characters' habits and social characteristics just leapt at the reader from the page as if they were alive. However, there's this huge part where Rushdie goes at length to describe the political and wartime situations in Kashmir during the seventies and eighties which sounds so much like a preachy schoolteacher giving a history lesson that it starts to get so boring, finishing the book becomes a huge chore.

Basically, the story follows two personalities, Ambassador Maximilian Ophuls and his eventual assassin, the titular Shalimar the Clown. The story begins with the assassination of the ambassador, and how Ophuls' daughter, India, survives his death. This provokes a long excursion into the combined pasts of Max Ophuls and Shalimar the Clown, stretching as far as to the period right before the second world war and Max's involvement in the said war, while Shalimar's own situation during the India-Pakistan war in Kashmir mirrors that of Max's early life.

But while Max's story is an interesting read with a lot of flavorful 'anecdotes' about World War II, Shalimar's story starts out with an enormous cultural pastiche of life in Pachigam, Kashmir, which unfortunately turns into a long and arduous diatribe depicting the start of the political tensions in the region and the guerilla warfare that eventually overtook the island and its inhabitants. While it's a very very good depiction of the situation in Kashmir at the time, the character of Shalimar just fades into the background, and he becomes a throbbing, emotional wallflower of hate and vengeance. While Max was a driving force of a man, Shalimar was such a looming shadow that lacked any other character than the ones he eventually develops as a response to Max's presence in his life that he eventually becomes an effectively depressing character to follow.

Rushdie also becomes a little bit experimental here with some of the pseudo-dialogue, lapsing into what I could only call an old man's attempt to sound street-wise and hip, which sounds so wrong that I can't even bring myself to describe it. The book's otherwise well-written - truth be told, even the streetspeak's well-written - but it's either Rushdie watches all of the wrong shows, or he just doesn't get the point of some of the terms and memes of the new generation.

Of course, Salman Rushdie is Salman Rushdie, a giant in modern-day literature and is always - always - an interesting read. His immense love for socio-political topics past and present, which explains the vast number of awards that he has received, and he remains to be one of the many authors I avidly follow and read. Which means that despite its flaws, "Shalimar the Clown" is still an awesome read, especially if you're into historical fiction.

But for me, it kinda died around the middle, I have to say.

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