Shalimar the Clown

Shalimar the Clown

4.4 17
by Salman Rushdie

View All Available Formats & Editions

"Los Angeles, 1991. Maximilian Ophuls, one of the makers of the modern world, is knifed to death in broad daylight on the doorstep of his illegitimate daughter India, slaughtered by his Kashmiri Muslim driver, a mysterious figure who calls himself Shalimar the clown. The dead man is a World War II Resistance hero, a man of formidable intellectual ability and much…  See more details below


"Los Angeles, 1991. Maximilian Ophuls, one of the makers of the modern world, is knifed to death in broad daylight on the doorstep of his illegitimate daughter India, slaughtered by his Kashmiri Muslim driver, a mysterious figure who calls himself Shalimar the clown. The dead man is a World War II Resistance hero, a man of formidable intellectual ability and much erotic appeal, a former United States ambassador to India, and subsequently America's counter-terrorism chief. The murder looks at first like a political assassination but turns out to be passionately personal." This is the story of Max, his killer, and his daughter - and of a fourth character, the woman who links them, whose revelation finally explains them all. It is a narrative that moves from California to Kashmir, France, and England, and back to California again. Along the way there are tales of princesses lured from their homes by demons, legends of kings forced to defend their kingdoms against evil. There is kindness and there is magic capable of producing miracles, but there is also war - ugly, unavoidable, and seemingly interminable. And there is always love, gained and lost, uncommonly beautiful and mortally dangerous.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

The lives of two vastly different men intersect for one fatal moment. Ambassador Maximilian Ophuls is stabbed in broad daylight by his Kashmiri Muslim chauffeur, a tragic eccentric who calls himself Shalimar the Clown. To explain how they arrived at that point, Salman Rushdie must reach back into the history of three continents and construct a parable of multiculturalism. A finely textured novel by "a perpetual storyteller."

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.51(w) x 9.51(h) x 1.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

Shalimar the Clown

By Salman Rushdie

Random House

Salman Rushdie
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1588364844

Chapter One

Chapter 1

At twenty-four the ambassador's daughter slept badly through the warm, unsurprising nights. She woke up frequently and even when sleep did come her body was rarely at rest, thrashing and flailing as if trying to break free of dreadful invisible manacles. At times she cried out in a language she did not speak. Men had told her this, nervously. Not many men had ever been permitted to be present while she slept. The evidence was therefore limited, lacking consensus; however, a pattern emerged. According to one report she sounded guttural, glottal-stoppy, as if she were speaking Arabic. Night-Arabian, she thought, the dreamtongue of Scheherazade. Another version described her words as science-fictional, like Klingon, like a throat being cleared in a galaxy far, far away. Like Sigourney Weaver channeling a demon in Ghostbusters. One night in a spirit of research the ambassador's daughter left a tape recorder running by her bedside but when she heard the voice on the tape its death's-head ugliness, which was somehow both familiar and alien, scared her badly and she pushed the erase button, which erased nothing important. The truth was still the truth.

These agitated periods of sleep-speech were mercifully brief, and when they ended she would subside for a time, sweating and panting, into a state of dreamless exhaustion. Then abruptly she would awake again, convinced, in her disoriented state, that there was an intruder in her bedroom. There was no intruder. The intruder was an absence, a negative space in the darkness. She had no mother. Her mother had died giving her birth: the ambassador's wife had told her this much, and the ambassador, her father, had confirmed it. Her mother had been Kashmiri, and was lost to her, like paradise, like Kashmir, in a time before memory. (That the terms Kashmir and paradise were synonymous was one of her axioms, which everyone who knew her had to accept.) She trembled before her mother's absence, a void sentinel shape in the dark, and waited for the second calamity, waited without knowing she was waiting. After her father died--her brilliant, cosmopolitan father, Franco-American, "like Liberty," he said, her beloved, resented, wayward, promiscuous, often absent, irresistible father--she began to sleep soundly, as if she had been shriven. Forgiven her sins, or, perhaps, his. The burden of sin had been passed on. She did not believe in sin.

So until her father's death she was not an easy woman to sleep with, though she was a woman with whom men wanted to sleep. The pressure of men's desires was tiresome to her. The pressure of her own desires was for the most part unrelieved. The few lovers she took were variously unsatisfactory and so (as if to declare the subject closed) she soon enough settled on one pretty average fellow, and even gave serious consideration to his proposal of marriage. Then the ambassador was slaughtered on her doorstep like a halal chicken dinner, bleeding to death from a deep neck wound caused by a single slash of the assassin's blade. In broad daylight! How the weapon must have glistened in the golden morning sun; which was the city's quotidian blessing, or its curse. The daughter of the murdered man was a woman who hated good weather, but most of the year the city offered little else. Accordingly, she had to put up with long monotonous months of shadowless sunshine and dry, skin-cracking heat. On those rare mornings when she awoke to cloud cover and a hint of moisture in the air she stretched sleepily in bed, arching her back, and was briefly, even hopefully, glad; but the clouds invariably burned off by noon and then there it was again, the dishonest nursery blue of the sky that made the world look childlike and pure, the loud impolite orb blaring at her like a man laughing too loudly in a restaurant.

In such a city there could be no grey areas, or so it seemed. Things were what they were and nothing else, unambiguous, lacking the subtleties of drizzle, shade and chill. Under the scrutiny of such a sun there was no place to hide. People were everywhere on display, their bodies shining in the sunlight, scantily clothed, reminding her of advertisements. No mysteries here or depths; only surfaces and revelations. Yet to learn the city was to discover that this banal clarity was an illusion. The city was all treachery, all deception, a quick-change, quicksand metropolis, hiding its nature, guarded and secret in spite of all its apparent nakedness. In such a place even the forces of destruction no longer needed the shelter of the dark. They burned out of the morning's brightness, dazzling the eye, and stabbed at you with sharp and fatal light.

Her name was India. She did not like this name. People were never called Australia, were they, or Uganda or Ingushetia or Peru. In the mid-1960s her father, Max Ophuls (Maximilian Ophuls, raised in Strasbourg, France, in an earlier age of the world), had been America's best-loved, and then most scandalous, ambassador to India, but so what, children were not saddled with names like Herzegovina or Turkey or Burundi just because their parents had visited those lands and possibly misbehaved in them. She had been conceived in the East--conceived out of wedlock and born in the midst of the firestorm of outrage that twisted and ruined her father's marriage and ended his diplomatic career--but if that were sufficient excuse, if it was okay to hang people's birthplaces round their necks like albatrosses, then the world would be full of men and women called Euphrates or Pisgah or Iztaccihuatl or Woolloomooloo. In America, damn it, this form of naming was not unknown, which spoiled her argument slightly and annoyed her more than somewhat. Nevada Smith, Indiana Jones, Tennessee Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford: she directed mental curses and a raised middle finger at them all.

"India" still felt wrong to her, it felt exoticist, colonial, suggesting the appropriation of a reality that was not hers to own, and she insisted to herself that it didn't fit her anyway, she didn't feel like an India, even if her color was rich and high and her long hair lustrous and black. She didn't want to be vast or subcontinental or excessive or vulgar or explosive or crowded or ancient or noisy or mystical or in any way Third World. Quite the reverse. She presented herself as disciplined, groomed, nuanced, inward, irreligious, understated, calm. She spoke with an English accent. In her behavior she was not heated, but cool. This was the persona she wanted, that she had constructed with great determination. It was the only version of her that anyone in America, apart from her father and the lovers who had been scared off by her nocturnal proclivities, had ever seen. As to her interior life, her violent English history, the buried record of disturbed behavior, the years of delinquency, the hidden episodes of her short but eventful past, these things were not subjects for discussion, were not (or were no longer) of concern to the general public. These days she had herself firmly in hand. The problem child within her was sublimated into her spare-time pursuits, the weekly boxing sessions at Jimmy Fish's boxing club on Santa Monica and Vine where Tyson and Christy Martin were known to work out and where the cold fury of her hitting made the male boxers pause to watch, the biweekly training sessions with a Clouseau-attacking Burt Kwouk look-alike who was a master of the close-combat martial art of Wing Chun, the sun-bleached blackwalled solitude of Saltzman's Moving Target shooting gallery out in the desert at 29 Palms, and, best of all, the archery sessions in downtown Los Angeles near the city's birthplace in Elysian Park, where her new gifts of rigid self-control, which she had learned in order to survive, to defend herself, could be used to go on the attack. As she drew back her golden Olympic-standard bow, feeling the pressure of the bowstring against her lips, sometimes touching the bottom of the arrow shaft with the tip of her tongue, she felt the arousal in herself, allowed herself to feel the heat rising in her while the seconds allotted to her for the shot ticked down toward zero, until at last she let fly, unleashing the silent venom of the arrow, reveling in the distant thud of her weapon hitting its target. The arrow was her weapon of choice.

She also kept the strangeness of her seeing under control, the sudden otherness of vision that came and went. When her pale eyes changed the things she saw, her tough mind changed them back. She did not care to dwell on her turbulence, never spoke about her childhood, and told people she did not remember her dreams.

On her twenty-fourth birthday the ambassador came to her door. She looked down from her fourth-floor balcony when he buzzed and saw him waiting in the heat of the day wearing his absurd silk suit like a French sugar daddy. Holding flowers, yet. "People will think you're my lover," India shouted down to Max, "my cradle-snatching Valentine." She loved the ambassador when he was embarrassed, the pained furrow of his brow, the right shoulder hunching up against his ear, the hand raised as if to ward off a blow. She saw him fracture into rainbow colors through the prism of her love. She watched him recede into the past as he stood below her on the sidewalk, each successive moment of him passing before her eyes and being lost forever, surviving only in outer space in the form of escaping light-rays. This is what loss was, what death was: an escape into the luminous wave-forms, into the ineffable speed of the light-years and the parsecs, the eternally receding distances of the cosmos. At the rim of the known universe an unimaginable creature would someday put its eye to a telescope and see Max Ophuls approaching, wearing a silk suit and carrying birthday roses, forever borne forward on tidal waves of light. Moment by moment he was leaving her, becoming an ambassador to such unthinkably distant elsewheres. She closed her eyes and opened them again. No, he was not billions of miles away amid the wheeling galaxies. He was here, correct and present, on the street where she lived.

He had recovered his poise. A woman in running clothes rounded the corner from Oakwood and cantered toward him, appraising him, making the easy judgments of the times, judgments about sex and money. He was one of the architects of the postwar world, of its international structures, its agreed economic and diplomatic conventions. His tennis game was strong even now, at his advanced age. The inside-out forehand, his surprise weapon. That wiry frame in long white trousers, carrying not much more than five percent body fat, could still cover the court. He reminded people of the old champion Jean Borotra: those few old-timers who remembered Borotra. He stared with undisguised European pleasure at the jogger's American breasts in their sports bra. As she passed him he offered her a single rose from the enormous birthday bouquet. She took the flower; and then, appalled by his charm, by the erotic proximity of his snappy crackle of power, and by herself, accelerated anxiously away. Fifteen--love.

From the balconies of the apartment building the old Central and East European ladies were also staring at Max, admiringly, with the open lust of toothless age. His arrival was the high point of their month. They were out en masse today. Usually they gathered together in small street-corner clumps or sat in twos and threes by the courtyard swimming pool chewing the fat, sporting inadvisable beachwear without shame. Usually they slept a lot and when not sleeping complained. They had buried the husbands with whom they had spent forty or even fifty years of unregarded life. Stooped, leaning, expressionless, the old women lamented the mysterious destinies that had stranded them here, halfway across the world from their points of origin. They spoke in strange tongues that might have been Georgian, Croatian, Uzbek. Their husbands had failed them by dying. They were pillars that had fallen, they had asked to be relied upon and had brought their wives away from everything that was familiar into this shadowless lotus-land full of the obscenely young, this California whose body was its temple and whose ignorance was its bliss, and then proved themselves unreliable by keeling over on the golf course or face down in a bowl of noodle soup, thus revealing to their widows at this late stage in their lives the untrustworthiness of existence in general and of husbands in particular. In the evenings the widows sang childhood songs from the Baltic, from the Balkans, from the vast Mongolian plains.

The neighborhood's old men were single, too, some inhabiting sagging sacks of bodies over which gravity had exerted far too much power, others grizzle-chopped and letting themselves go in dirty T-shirts and pants with unbuttoned flies, while a third, jauntier contingent dressed sharply, affecting berets and bow ties. These natty gents periodically tried to engage the widows in conversation. Their efforts, with yellow glints of false teeth and melancholy sightings of slicked-down vestiges of hair beneath the doffed berets, were invariably and contemptuously ignored. To these elderly beaux, Max Ophuls was an affront, the ladies' interest in him a humiliation. They would have killed him if they could, if they had not been too busy staving off their own deaths.

India saw it all, the exhibitionist, desirous old women pirouetting and flirting on the verandahs, the lurking, spiteful old men. The antique Russian super, Olga Simeonovna, a bulbous denim-clad samovar of a woman, was greeting the ambassador as if he were a visiting head of state. If there had been a red carpet on the premises she would have rolled it out for him.

"She keeps you waiting, Mr. Ambassador, what you gonna do, the young. I say nothing against. Just, a daughter these days is more difficult, I was a daughter myself who for me my father was like a god, to keep him waiting unthinkable. Alas, daughters today are hard to raise and then they leave you flat. I sir am formerly mother, but now they are dead to me, my girls. I spit on their forgotten names. This is how it is."

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Shalimar the Clown 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
In Shalimar The Clown, Rushdie takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the countries of India, Pakistan, modern-day L.A., wartime France, England and Austria and the emotional countries of love, betrayal, passion, jealousy, revenge and retribution. It is a compelling book that takes over the lives of its readers as they burrow further and further into the tale. In the beautiful province of Kashmir, a couple falls in love. Shalimar is the star of the local acrobatic troupe, a clown who can walk the tightrope as if he were walking on air. His young love and then wife, Boonyi, was the most beautiful and talented dancer. Although Shalimar was Muslim and Boonyi Hindu, they fell in love and were protected by the villagers, who refused to let religion separate friendships and love. Into this idyllic relationship, as always, trouble arrived. In this case, it happened when Boonyi danced for the American Ambassador, a charming, charismatic man named Max Ophuls. Their subsequent affair laid into place events that would play out over the next decades. Salman Rushdie is one of the premier novelists of our time, and I have never been less than mesmerized with any of his books. His characterizations are so detailed that one feels they know every character. Each, no matter how small a part they play in the story, are given intricate backgrounds that explain their motivations. Rushdie's ability to use these characters to explore the age-old themes such as love, jealousy, betrayal, political movements, the movement of nations from one state to another, is unparalleled. This book is recommended for any reader interested in a great read that will keep them enthralled from start to finish.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The novels timeline would be different but this book should have been written years ago. What has happened in India, Pakistan, Kashmir and the surrounding regions, and is still happening today, is a story that needs to be told.
Bookworm026 More than 1 year ago
Exceptional ! A must-read ! Rushdie's novel is a masterpiece, one of the best in my opinion! The man is definitely a genius of literature !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To call this the novel of a year would be the understatement of a decade, and perhaps a century. The charcters are completely flushed out, the multiple narratives flawlessly integrated, and the story of a land mirrored in that of some of its inhabitants.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Riley28078 More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved the characters, plot and settings in this excellent novel. If you are a fan of Rushdie then I highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
In an age where 'fantastic' means little more than competent mediocrity, one struggles to find an adjective that can do justice to the the soul of this remarkable book. Rushdie's masterful descriptions of the characters, their triumphs, their defeats both great and ignominous, their treacheries big and small, their humanity and the thread that links their fates makes this one a compelling read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read two other books by salman rushdie. I love his style of writing and admires his intellegence. But I do not usually agree with his views...the way he potrays muslims, islam and the subcontinent. This is the first time that he has been fair to that part of the world. He has done a really good job of telling the core the problem in a story and has covered it well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Salman Rushdie has finally started doing something that he should have started a long time ago i.e. tell the world about the pathetic situation his brethren in Indian Occupied Kashmir are in even if he doesn't share the same ideology that Kashmiri's believe in.....He is still genetically a Kashmiri and has a moral responsibility to help Kashmiri's put an end to their relentless sufferring at the hands of the Indian forces occuppying Kashmir.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dawncln Riverclan Sapphireclan Coolclan Leafclan Happyclan Kitclan. (Windclan and Foreclan)