Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shame by Salman Rushdie

Rushdie’s novel about Pakistan is satirical, biting, funny, beautiful, chilling, and usual all of his phenomenal bag of tricks. It’s a full-volume circus, featuring methuselean crones, virgin birth, generals who cry, magic prognosticating tapestries, fornication, enough metaphor to confuse the most devout scholars, and another fifty years of Indian-Pakistani history besides.

Shame tells the tale of a collection of men and women who are metaphors for the birth and fall-from-grace of the nation-state created by partition in the late fifties. But don’t expect a clear cut history lesson; while the literal narrative unfolds as it might well have, the world is chock full of magic realism.

Rushdie’s writing is, as always, so lyrical, so stylized and so, frankly, beautiful that he’s able to take the reader exactly where he wishes in every overfull paragraph... For example:

Once a beautiful young women rendered lovely and naked by the hot wind from a terrorist bomb that killed her father, the mother of brain-damaged girl who represents Pakistan grows old. As she ages, and her husband, the autocratic military dictator who runs the country becomes more and more corrupt, she dons the black burqua and begins to speak only in metaphors. “[she] became in those years, almost invisible, a shadow hunting the corridors for something it had lost, the body, perhaps, from which it had come unstuck. She became less than a character, a mirage, almost, a mumble in the corners of the palace, a rumor in a veil.”

Recall now, that this is the mother of “Shame”, the young woman who represents Pakistan, and who becomes a bestial whore, slaughtering the citizenry in her furious retardation… Ahh, Mr. Rushdie, tell us how you really feel about partition.

Anyway, this is a great book. Again, it’s not quite Midnight’s Children, but it’s not far from it. The language is beautiful, the characters fascinating, the scenes memorable, and the entire tower constructed in such a way that you don’t realize what you’re in the middle of until you’re surrounded. And by then it’s too late to do anything but keep turning pages, mouth slightly agape in wonder as this master juggler and illuminator lets his trick unfold towards it’s beautiful, inevitable, and chilling conclusion.

IF you haven't read Rushdie, and care at all about style, language, fiction, or the multiplicity of cultural perspectives which comprise our world, might I most heartily recommend?


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