Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – Book

Quichotte, Salman Rushdie’s most recent book is chock full of India-Indian Americans who seem as at home and doomed, with lives as empty as any American whose family has lived here for decades, or even centuries. Why are we here, not in America, but on this planet? Why are we intent on destroying the planet that is our home? What do we want? What does it all mean? We seem, in Rushdie’s tale as aimless as five dice in a Yahtzee cup.

Thematically Rushdie covers a lot of territory. Immigration or at least transplantation is in there, as are journeys, tilting at windmills, nostalgia, despair, guilt, hate, love, forgiveness, human failings, cultural failings, Planet B, apocalypse, dystopia and more, sort of an I Ching of modern pathologies.

This is a story loosely based on the Don Quixote story and Quichotte (Key-shot) is on a journey from Motel 6’s to Red Roof Inns across America peddling meds for his distant relation, Dr. Smile. Our Quichotte is a man with a big hole in his memory, a retrieval problem. He follows meteor showers from one magical western rock formation to another as he distributes his samples. Dr. Smile and his wife Happy Smile don’t think of themselves as drug dealers, but they are – so is Quichotte although he can barely be considered as capable of peddling anything.

Dr. Smile has created a new form of fentanyl to help cancer patients with breakthrough pain. It is sprayed under the tongue killing pain instantly. But it is very seductive and dangerous, the perfect pairing to make it beloved by those who abuse drugs. It is opioids on mega-steroids. Of course the drug escapes the medical boundaries of its designers and gets prescribed to just about anyone who wants it.

Quichotte does not know he is a drug dealer. He is just working for his relative and fortunately he gets fired before his job becomes an issue, fortunate because he has many other issues, one of them being that he is in love. Dr. Smile and Quichotte cross paths again though.

If you have seen a mirror that reflects the same scene back to a vanishing point, mirror after mirror, then you have some idea of Rushdie’s story structure. Or perhaps it’s like a set on nesting dolls. We have brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, all over the place, all estranged, all seeking to reconcile. Everyone is questing to bind wounds from the past. Everyone is looking for love, mostly of the sibling variety, except for Quichotte who has fallen in love inappropriately with a young TV star, and has created a son (Sancho) from a fervent wish on a meteor shower. Also, the world is starting to flicker around the edges like an old film that is fading in spots or dying from overexposure to light or heat in others.

I always say that India and America are soul mates but it is perhaps more likely that the people of our two nations are the actual soul mates. Thanks for the trip Salman Rushdie. I hope this story, Quichotte, which seemed to say farewell, will be followed by more Salman Rushdie productions in the future. Maybe despair is our present and our future, but maybe not. Perhaps we can turn our own planet into Planet B and soon, before we destroy each other along with the planet.

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie – Book

The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie

The author of The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, and I have lived through the same decades, but his life has been global and large; mine provincial and small. Mr. Rushdie was born in Mumbai, however his influences were both British and Indian. Everyone remembers that he lived in fear of his life as a Muslim under a fatwa because of his book, The Satanic Verses.

In The Golden House, Rushdie writes as a New Yorker. He tells a tale of a Mumbai family, hiding with new identities, under a mysterious veil of danger in New York City. Our narrator is a young American man raised by professorial and loving parents on the edges of the MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens. (They’re real, look it up.) The Golden family lives at the other end of the Gardens and these recent arrivals are endlessly fascinating to René, the son of Gabe and Darcy.

The Goldens were “reborn” when they left Mumbai to live in America with their adopted Roman names. The father claimed the name of Nero, with all its end-of-empire symbolism. His first son took the name Petronius, the second chose Lucius Apuleius (Apu) and the third became Dionysus or D. The names were perhaps a bad idea.

René had always wanted to be a film maker but his life seems too prosaic until it becomes entangled in the low key, but rather tragic, lives of this family with no mother and, seemingly, no past. This novel is, among other things, an homage to great movies/films – European, Hollywood, Bollywood. Salman Rushdie, bursting still with crackling intellectual energy pulls into his story references to the movies he has loved, the same movies we love, except for a few so highbrow they may never have been available in the hinterlands I have inhabited. These movies still live vividly in his prodigious memory and in the minds of many a film buff.

As the Golden family comes apart, because you really cannot escape the past, a politician known as the Joker, guess who, a clownish grafter, is running for the American Presidency. (The parallels between American Democracy and the fall of Rome are hardly subtle.) As we know the Joker wins the election.

This is a very readable novel, without the Muslim/Indian baseline which is foreign to most Americans and makes some Rushdie novels seem somewhat dense. The Golden House is a tour de force by a man who is comfortable in cultures around the globe and does not mind splashing around in his literary bona fides for our enjoyment. Eliot’s “Prufrock” and Shakespeare get cameos among the films – “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” Not yet, Mr. Rushdie, not yet.

Those of us who are shell-shocked with worry for American Democracy can find some comfort in the decision this British/Indian man made to put on his New York/American persona in order to help us through these chaotic days (and nights, and months, and years). What began as a comedy could easily become a classical tragedy. However, I think you will read this tragedy with a great big old smile on your face (at least some of the time).

Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie – Book

Salman Rushdie, in his newest novel, weighs in on modern
global events and even the American election. But he entertains us in his usual
insightful way by couching his commentary in a Jinn-Jinnia War of the Worlds,
which is quite a helpful conceit when you are trying to talk about people who
want to send the world reeling into the 12th century or obliterate
it altogether. It’s apocalyptic fun with a Persian/Arabian flavor.
The Jinni and the Jinnia live in a parallel world usually
sealed against all interaction. But the Jinni and especially the four powerful
male Grand Ifrits did not count on a jinnia with daddy issues. On one of the
rare occasions when the seals between the worlds opened up a Jinnia fell in
love with a human, Îbn Rushd (perhaps the author). She became Dunia and
produced thousands of offspring, humans with a bit of jinn hidden inside. They
became the Duniazat.
The title of Rushdie’s book is Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (or 1001 Nights).
Although it is a sort of allegory, it is not an allegory with animals; it is one
with the inhabitants of Peristan/Fairyland. And it is not a one-to-one allegory,
or perhaps I was just not able to find a one-to-one equivalency in every case,
but there were enough times when direct connections could be made and these are
where the most potent commentary could be found. Perhaps a few quotes will help
convince you:
“The Grand Ifrits’ contempt for their subjects was only
increased by the ease with which they recruited human beings to assist them in
the maintenance of their new empire. ‘Greed and fear’, Zummurrud told his three
fellow leaders, who met, as was their custom, on a dark cloud circling earth at
the Equator, from which they watched and judged the mere mortals below them,
‘fear and greed’ are the tools by which these insects can be controlled with
almost comical ease,” (pg. 229)
“The enemy is stupid, he replied. That is the ground for
hope. There is no originality in tyrants, and they learn nothing from the
demise of their precursors. They will be brutal and stifling and engender
hatred and destroy what men love and that will defeat them. All important
battles are, in the end, conflicts between hatred and love, and we must hold to
the idea that love is stronger than hate.” (Pg. 234)
A conversation between two human philosophers:
“Faith is our gift from God and reason is our adolescent
rebellion against it. When we are adult we will turn wholly to faith as we are
born to do.”
“You will see, as time goes by,” said Ibn Rushd, “that in the
end it will be religions that will make men turn away from God. The godly are
God’s worst advocates. It may take a thousand and one years but in the end
religion will shrivel away and only then will we begin to live in God’s truth.”
I guess I see Salman Rushdie as sort of a Buddha or Dalai
Lama, albeit with a reputation for womanizing, who takes a long view of human
history. I always admire the long view. I cannot tell you who wins the war
between Peristan and Earth, the jinni and jinnira, or the humans and the
Lightening Princess, because it will ruin the tale Rushdie tells. Does the
Lightning Princess, that prolific mother, represent any human we know? I will
have to leave that for you to decide.
Although Salman Rushdie is immersed in a culture miles away
from ours, he has also spent lots of time in England and Europe and so if you
are new to Salman Rushdie you should have no fears about diving right into this
novel or you can go back and begin at the beginning if you like chronology.
Some of his books seem somewhat interconnected. This novel is more of a
stand-alone and, although it may meet the tests of time it is also of this
particular moment, right now, at the beginning of the 21st century. I am a Salman Rushdie fan.
By Nancy Brisson