7 October 2019
Language remains the strongest character in Salman Rushdie’s narrative — reflecting extreme pain of loss and helplessness at one time and the cold-blooded brutality of the killings at another. His words play with light and darkness to transport the reader to the gloomy days and blood-stained alleys, so much so that one can actually smell the stench of blood and gore.
The triumph of Salman Rushdie’s book is that it straps you into your seat and makes you ride the rollercoaster for yourself so that you are jolted out of any pity or derision you may feel, and shaken into a sense of genuine empathy. Every stupid, horrific question of ‘why didn’t you’ and ‘why did you’ is efficiently invoked, comprehensively slain and racism modeled as a way to stay breathing in the face of war and nationalistic dehumanization. Unlike the Tumblr posts and comic gifs you may have ignored at your peril, this book shows far more than it tells. After reading it, you really have no excuse for not getting it.
I honestly do not know how to review Quichotte. It is one of those books that has so much to offer that one doesn’t know where to start talking about it. The varied themes, the writing, the plot, the characterization, or even the way it often makes you think about your relationship with people and the world at large. To me, Quichotte is one of the best books I’ve read this year and rightly so.
I started the book with great trepidation given the negative reviews I had read online, but all it took me was a couple of pages in to dismiss them. This is the kind of book that unknowingly creeps up on you and sticks. It stays. It makes you mull and wonder and often even makes you take sides.
Quichotte to me is not a political story just because it is set mostly in America. It is about people, it is about family, community, and the bonds we forge, rather unknowingly. The book is about what we hold on to and what we leave behind. It is about a boy and what happens to him and the people he meets or wants to meet.
Salman Rushdie writes brutally. He bares it all for the reader to see, to hurt with the characters, and feel this twinge of sadness as things do not turn out the way you wanted to.
Ambitiously imagined and hauntingly alive, Quichotte writes into being the interwoven stories of people caught in the vortex of fate and discrimination, powerless yet with powers of their own: of bravery and wonder, empathy and endurance, of how a search for anperson can cause the search for a whole new identity and how problems of a country can cause drastic changes and trauma in one’s own mindscape. Salman Rushdie’s extraordinary new novel is an unflinching and intense page-turner.
The protagonist, Sam DuChamp, is an Indian-born writer living in America and author of a number of unsuccessful spy thrillers. Hoping to write a book “radically unlike any other he had ever attempted”, he creates the character of Ismail Smile. Smile, who was born in Bombay, is a travelling pharmaceutical salesman who has suffered a stroke in old age. He begins obsessively watching reality television and becomes infatuated with Salma R, a former Bollywood star who hosts a daytime talk show in New York City. Despite having never met her, he sends her love letters under the pen name “Quichotte”. He begins a quest for her across America, driving in his Chevrolet Cruze with his imaginary son Sancho. The two experience contemporary issues of the United States, including racism and the opioid epidemic. The lives of the character Quichotte and the writer DuChamp intertwine as the story progresses.
As you read through the book, it grows upon you feeding upon your brain cells and your emotions, it plays with your mind and creates mirages of humour on your path to the bigger and hidden meanings. As you are through it, it changes you.
What do I mean by change? Change is an hourly, meditative practice. The empathy you speak of, it has to be cultivated, to become a habit, through what I can best describe as a process of radical inclusion: of those who are profiled and policed because of race, religion, class, caste, nationality, refugee status, immigrant status, sexuality, gender. Of course, this isn’t radical inclusion; it’s just inclusion. In a book I once read, one of the characters says ‘the opposite of peace is not war. The opposite of peace is inertia.’ If we could normalise inclusion, so that it doesn’t seem radical, if we could overcome the inertia that keeps us from normalising inclusion, then ‘othering’ would not be so easy.
That is what this books tells us in their majestic sweep into an unknown parts of the racist and segregated history and our destructive present generation.
Animating it is a kaleidoscopic variety of bohemians, revolutionaries, and lovers…With his exquisite and dynamic storytelling, Salman Rushdie balances scenes of suffering and corruption with flashes of humour, giddiness, and even transcendence. This intricately layered and passionate novel, studded with jokes, eroticism and with horrors, has room for satire and romance, for rage and politics and for steely understatement. Salman Rushdie’s characters leap out of the pages and scream to you in the highest notes about their altered fates and the dance and magic that fate played with them in the epic.
Salman Rushdie has a gift for telling stories that boast of the robust prose, muscle and sinew favoured by the author in this tale as well. His characters are delicately sketched out and pulse with life as they leap off the pages into the consciousness of those who have gotten to know them so intimately. His decision not to make it unduly melodramatic but rather keep it simple and clinical even, succeeds in making the horror all the more stomach turning.
It is a juicy premise, and in Salman Rushdie’s hands it becomes something extraordinary, grabbing readers by the throat, plunging them into the depths of the feminine and male psyche with its myriad hues that run the gamut from the sublimely beautiful and inspiring to the sordid and shocking.
Quichotte features a story within a story, making it, similar to Cervantes’ novel, a metafiction. The novel’s protagonist writer Sam DuChamp has been compared to Cide Hamete Benengeli, a fictional Arab writer whose manuscripts Cervantes claimed to translate the majority of Don Quixote from as a metafictional trick to give a greater credibility to the text. In Quichotte, Ismail Smile’s obsession with Salma R and his subsequent adoption of the pseudonym “Quichotte” parallel that of Alonso Quijano, the fictional hidalgo who renames himself “Don Quixote” after falling into madness. “Quichotte” is the French spelling of “Quixote” and is a reference to French composer Jules Massenet’s 1910 opera Don Quichotte. Quichotte’s imaginary son Sancho was named after Sancho Panza, who similarly acts as squire to Don Quixote. Salma R is seen as similar to Don Quixote’s Dulcinea del Toboso.
Holding a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte in your hands can be somewhat intimidating, mostly because it gives every indication of being a weighty tome in every sense of the word. Not surprisingly, it is not possible to classify this literary extravaganza which is many things without limiting itself to anything in particular.
Salman Rushdie’s remarkable book is not really meant to be analysed, rather the reader would do well to cast aside all reservation and be swept up in its surging currents, delighting in the sheer sensations it evokes.
Revel in the inspired ideas, relish the asides that are funny as well as heart-breaking and ride on the wings of lyrical prose that transcends the limits of the medium while allowing your soul to soar towards the very height of great art powered by a superior mind at the very height of its prowess.
In a surprising move, Salman Rushdie is not content to chart their lives and measure the successes of these two extraordinary humans, though he does do that while opting to shift focus without warning to a dizzying array of colourful characters, who are an eclectic mix of writers, artists, freedom fighters, politicians, actors and even double agents all of whom made their own mark on history and left valuable impressions behind of the cultural, political and moral landscape of a crumbling nation.
Their stories have mixed results in that they do shed light on a veritable avalanche of complex historical facts which manage to occasionally engage the reader while also leaving him or her disconcerted with the sheer density of information conveyed detachedly in opaque prose and a penchant for dogged descriptiveness that is not always flavoursome enough to be savoured. The frequent meandering detours and a surfeit of material crammed into an overcrowded stage with too much happening at all levels can be most vexing. Oftentimes, the process of perusing this excellent material feels as laborious and cumbersome as scaling an unforgiving peak under extremely unfavourable conditions which makes one want to give up in abject despair. However, in the unlikely event that the modern reader afflicted with ADHD manages to persist, the rewards are not entirely non – existent. Salman Rushdie is determined to perform a delicate balancing act between the opposing viewpoints of the conqueror and conquered and is even-handed to the point of being exasperating.
A searing look into the bare bones of the classic hero-searching-heroine-in love and racist discrimination played out against the backdrop of encroaching madness, Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte makes for a pleasing read. The author is too smart a storyteller to provide convenient or contrived answers to the questions that pile up with dizzying momentum, for at the last you are the one reader who is lifted to the status of a godly judge to decide for the fate of the protagonist and his actions. Yet the reader is not left hanging or frustrated. It is a satisfying yarn that is meaty, evocative and likely to keep you mulling over it, long after the last page has been reluctantly turned. Salman Rushdie knows how to give his readers what they want while leaving them asking for more.
The plight of the modern human has been delineated with utmost perfection by Salman Rushdie in his writings. His stories are ridden with reality, novelties and pathos spreading over an amazingly wide canvas. They deal with almost every sphere of human life and living. Salman Rushdie’s excellence is marked through narration in controlled emotion regarding feelings and vivid picturesque description of events. Application of appropriate imagery, adeptness in blending the real with the imaginary and elasticity in style, distinguish Salman Rushdie’s stories from those of others. His stories aspire to compete with one another on daring genuineness, intense human sensitivity and extraordinary ornamentation of language.
He introduced us to people we already knew in our lives or had the chance of knowing. The problems and politics that emerge in a family and country, the repercussion of a love affair that transpired in childhood, and the obstinate love of an egotist were familiar themes to the middle class, and Salman Rushdie fittingly represented them in his novels.
Salman Rushdie does not attempt to cloak religion or caste in the garb of modernity but teases out their nuances, their organic functions, and the maps of inequality and hypocrisy, within which they were and continues to be located. The author has made a mark on the art of the novel in English. He seems to flaunt his art of sculpting the well wrought story, juggling with images, painting with words, sharpening the tools for chiselling the correct phrase.
Realism is possessed of different meanings and they are apt to overlap with one another. The first meaning of realism consists in creating in the reader’s mind a perception of characters and situations and in this sense folktales are, too, realistic. The second meaning is the enlivening of characters and incidents through meticulous description. The third meaning is the vivid portrayal of the contemporary life and society. The fourth meaning consists in making action and reaction of characters consistent with psychology. There are many other meanings of realism that could be mentioned here, but the four meanings of realism will do at this moment to interpret the kind of realism, Salman Rushdie took into consideration in delineating his characters, particularly female characters. Many critics are of the opinion that all realistic works hinge on the flow of consciousness. Salman Rushdie’s literature mirrors life, as it is lived and thus, is realistic in his portrayal of characters and his works abound in contemporary problems- social, economic and political.
The problems and the questions that deeply stirred the consciousness of Salman Rushdie and impregnated his work with richness – racial antagonism, casteism, cruel social canon, social humiliation of actresses and fallen women, the hauteur of the rules and the pangs of dependence, are losing their intensity to cope with the changing of time and are being replaced by other problems and questions to face up to the changing of social and political and social milieu. The urban life portrayed so dexterously in his work has considerably changed and the concept of nuclear family which is the mainspring of her work is rapidly dwindling away. Now economic problems monopolize man’s attention and thought and overshadow social problems. Human values are being drowned in the whirlpool of poverty, ignominy, misrule, class struggles and other social evils. Though his work hints at this social decadence, the problems are now threatened with a possibility of receding into history.
Hostage to a jumble of hopes and fears, but only moderate in their yearnings, these ordinary men and women try to cope with the dangers they face as best they can. To be alone is to be vulnerable by default, to lack allies. So most of them go down fighting, and in Salman Rushdie’s telling, with the fragile dignity of the wounded. It’s as if by writing their stories the author is restoring them, in all their humanity, back to this world, our world.