Reading this new novel by Salman Rushdie is, for me, like returning to a much-visited country after an absence of ten years – you hope not to be disappointed by alteration, only to discover that the greatest disappointment is the jaded familiarity. This is my fifth trip to Rushdiestan, but the first since The Moor’s Last Sigh, in 1995. Although that novel won the Whitbread Prize, I had begun to tire of sights I had seen too often; to suspect that, as a travel destination, Rushdiestan’s popularity depended on past glories, and that its heyday was, in fact, way back in 1981, with the seismic brilliance of Midnight’s Children.
Shalimar the Clown does a good job of resembling much of his earlier work. The author’s lifelong preoccupations recur: that of identity (geographic, religious, cultural); of deracination; of the inseparability of the individual from the historical; of the good and evil that spring from tribalism. There is the characteristic broad