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Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

Quichotte (edition 2019)

by Salman Rushdie

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955193,758 (4.43)16
A dazzling Don Quixote for the modern age--a tour de force that is as much an homage to an immortal work of literature as it is to the quest for love and family, by Booker Prize-winning, internationally bestselling author Rushdie.hdie.
Authors:Salman Rushdie
Info:London : Jonathan Cape, 2019.
Tags:fiction, pre-apocalyptic fiction, Bombay, Don Quixote, spy, opioids, mastodons, Pinocchio

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Quichotte: A Novel by Salman Rushdie



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Rushdie's never been known for pushing a blithe and optimistic view of the world, and no-one would really be expecting a rose-tinted view from him in his seventies, especially given the many bad things that actually are happening in the world around us. So, it's perhaps no great surprise that this latest book includes a chapter in which the world actually does end...

The interesting thing, of course, is what he does with this state of affairs. And being Rushdie, it's not the most obvious approach. Instead of telling us about the bad things he sees in modern life, he takes it for granted that we already know about the evils of social media, intolerance, Trump, climate catastrophe, racism, pre-cooked opinions, television, etc., and he focusses instead on the way our minds equip us to deal with such things by shifting away from reality into the realm of myths, stories, and romantic quests. Which naturally enough leads him into the Quixote story, but again we don't get the Quixote story "straight", we get an imaginary novelist who has created an imaginary modern Quixote (or rather "Quichotte", because Massenet is in there somewhere as well) character, and the imaginary modern Quichotte character creates an imaginary Sancho. And we see the process of fiction working as it's made explicit how the Quichotte shares some - but not all - of the character and background of the novelist, and implicit that the novelist shares some of the character and background of the equally imaginary Rushdie who is writing him. And so ad infinitum.

And just for fun, we soon realise that there's all sorts of other intertextuality going on here - people falling out of aeroplanes, an Italian talking cricket, a Romanian troubled by rhinoceroses mastodons, some famous science-fiction stories, and a woman in New York City who calls herself the Human Trampoline, but not for the reason Paul Simon was implying. And a great deal of American television, and some spy stories.

Although connections with actual issues of the modern world are mostly fairly sketchy, there is one trendy topic that Rushdie develops more fully, opioid abuse, something that obviously ties in with the general discussion of reality and detachment from it. And there's a tech billionaire who indulges in space-travel fantasies, but Rushdie is careful not to imply that he has anything to do with bookselling.

Depressing, uplifting, entertaining, puzzling - basically, it's the Rushdie recipe we're used to, maybe a notch darker than the last two or three books, but as rewarding and challenging as ever. ( )
  thorold | Sep 11, 2019 |
‘He talked about wanting to take on the destructive, mind-numbing junk culture of his time just as Cervantes had gone to war with the junk culture of his own age. He said he was trying also to write about impossible, obsessional love, father-son relationships, sibling quarrels, and yes, unforgiveable things; about Indian migrants, racism toward them, crooks among them; about cyber-spies, science fiction, the intertwining of fictional and “real” realities, the death of the author, the end of the world. He told her he wanted to incorporate elements of the parodic, and of satire and pastiche.
Nothing very ambitious, then, she said.’

Salman Rushdie’s new novel is part-homage, part-satire, part-pastiche, and wholly exuberant. It is shamelessly lavish and showy, cheerfully energetic, and totally exhilarating. Whilst this perhaps doesn’t reach the sublime heights of ‘Midnight’s Children’, this is the work of a writer still able to produce extraordinary fiction that tackles its issues head-on.

Rushdie-the-author creates a character called Sam DuChamp, a writer who is best known for his spy fiction. In turn, DuChamp – aka Brother – creates a character for his new novel, loosely based on Cervantes’ classic, but also inspired by Massenet’s opera Quichotte (hence the pronunciation of the main character: key-shot). Oh, and then Quichotte imagines a son he never had and, lo and behold, he comes into being. And who then starts having conversations with an Italian-speaking cricket called Grillo Parlante. Rushdie has great fun with the meta-narrative of the whole thing, and one strand of the novel is this meditation on fiction and the creative process. There are frequent interjections by the ‘author’ (take your pick as to which one it might be), and as layers of narrative are unpeeled the blurring of the lines between fiction, author, and fact becomes, literally, a fog, or a hole in the sky.

In essence, the plot surrounds Quichotte’s love for Miss Salma R., a former Bolly-/Hollywood actress turned TV talk-show host. Obsessed by modern culture’s celebration of all things TV, Quichotte – now a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company run by his cousin – becomes convinced that he has to meet Salma and profess his love. And so, accompanied by his imagined-real son Sancho, he sets off on his quest across America, heading for New York where his Beloved lives. The quest motif gives Rushdie scope to explore Indian spiritualism, Greek myth and legend, science fiction, pop songs, and any and all manner of cultural references:
‘”Every quest,” Quichotte answered, “takes place both in the sphere of the actual, which is what maps reveal to us, and in the sphere of the symbolic.”’

This is Trump’s America, and here the satire is aimed at certain parts of society. It isn’t subtle; it’s not meant to be. This is an angry response to our times, and to what many feel has happened to the country and its peoples:
‘Normal is guns and the normal America that really wants to be great again. Then there’s another normal if your skin colour is the wrong colour and another if you’re educated and another if you think education is brainwashing and there’s an America that believes in vaccines for kids and another that says it’s a con trick and everything one normal believes is a lie to another normal and they’re all on TV depending where you look, so, yeah, it’s confusing.’
What Salma, on her talk-show, pertinently calls ‘Errorism in America’

But the novel becomes as much about Sam DuChamp as it is about Quichotte, as he finds that the story that he is writing becomes his own story, even if at times he doesn’t know it. His son becomes involved in a gloriously ludicrous sub-plot involving spies and cyber-attacks, to parallel the sub-plot in the Quichotte story of Evel Cent, a billionaire who predicts that the end of the world is coming as the universe is fracturing.

It's almost impossible to try to draw the strands of all of this in one coherent review. Some may find that it doesn’t work, that it’s not vintage Rushdie. There is a feeling of the shackles being released; this is a glorious, all-encompassing, kitchen-sink kind of book. But it works. The themes and the characters give a humanity to the book, and I found myself profoundly moved by what happens to the characters of Quichotte and Sancho, Salma and DuChamp, as their individual quests reach their ends. It is an epic in every sense of the word; parody and pastiche and homage and, importantly, able to stand on its own two feet. It is a book that is self-referential, with an ‘author’ well aware of its sprawling nature, as he pops up to tell us: ‘so many of today’s stories are and must be of this plural, sprawling kind, because a kind of nuclear fission has taken place in human lives and relations.’

It may not be perfect, but this is a joyous hymn to the novel form itself, to telling a story, whilst also managing to be a meditation on love, death, and finding meaning and purpose in life. It is wonderfully challenging and engaging. It is brilliant. Will it win the Booker? I don’t know, but it sure as heck deserves to be on the longlist, and probably the shortlist. I can’t not give it anything less than 5 glorious stars. ( )
4 vote Alan.M | Aug 24, 2019 |
In this ambitious picaresque, Rushdie's main character is an author who states that he is trying to write "about impossible, obsessional love, father-son relationships, sibling quarrels, and yes, unforgivable things; about Indian immigrants, racism toward them, crooks among them; about cyber spies, science fiction, the intertwining of fictional and 'real' realities, the death of the author; the end of the world." And indeed, that begins to describe this novel, although it is far greater than the sum of its parts. The novel within the novel is the story of Quichotte (Quixote) and his possibly imaginary son Sancho--but then the whole thing is imaginary, and an exploration of reality and its relationship to fantasy. The author's and Quichotte's stories are parallel, and at times it is a challenge to the reader to keep them apart, although that may not really matter. There are plenty of secrets, betrayals, infatuations, revelations, reconciliations,and redemptions to go around. The literal and figurative roads traveled take the reader on a thought-provoking and memorable journey. ( )
  sleahey | Aug 14, 2019 |
Ismail Smile is on a quest. An elderly Indian man working as a pharmaceutical salesman in present-day America, he is slightly addled of mind but pure of spirit and full of hope. Using the pseudonym Quichotte (pronounced “key-SHOT” for reasons eventually revealed) along with Sancho, the son he imagines into existence, they set off across the continent on a journey through the seven valleys of challenge—one of which being the need to reconcile with the sister he has wronged—that will lead him to his Beloved and prove him worthy of her love. But his Beloved, a self-styled film and television star with lots of problems of her own, has no idea who Quichotte is or how he got the idea that the two of them were meant to be together. Whether or not they actually are destined to become a couple forms the dramatic tension in this engaging tale.

Sounds like a relatively straightforward modernization of Cervantes’ classic social satire Don Quixote, right? It is, but then this is a Salman Rushdie novel, meaning that nothing is quite that simple. As it turns out, the character of Quichotte is the invention of Sam DuChamp, an unremarkable author of spy fiction, who is writing this picaresque as a way to redeem the mess he has made of his own life. So, the book Quichotte is a story-within-a-story with more than a few twists in its intricate, parallel plotline. Above all else, with this saga Rushdie has produced his own sendup of life in the 21st century. And what a skewering, take-no-prisoners look it is, focused on such timely issues as immigration, racism, climate change, obsession with the media, family conflicts, opioid addiction, mental illness, the problems of aging, fears about the end of the world, and, of course, the quest for love.

Following The Golden House, this novel continues the author’s recent trend of setting his unique brand of social commentary in a modern setting, rather than the historical context he has used in much of his earlier work. Overall, I found Quichotte to be a well-written and an extremely well-crafted story; Rushdie is truly a masterful stylist of fiction and he has long been one of my favorite writers. Certainly, the points he wants to make come through loudly and clearly in a narrative that is wonderfully creative and entertaining. However, it is also not without its flaws; the entire tale felt a little bloated at times and the author is perhaps too heavy-handed in his portrayal of the racism and ethnic hatred that defines the American public. So, while it does not approach Midnight’s Children as the best of Rushdie’s estimable catalog, this is a book that I can happily recommend to both fans of the author and those new to his work. ( )
1 vote browner56 | Jul 12, 2019 |
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A dazzling Don Quixote for the modern age--a tour de force that is as much an homage to an immortal work of literature as it is to the quest for love and family, by Booker Prize-winning, internationally bestselling author Rushdie.hdie.

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