Reviews

Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

Raquel Laneri

Though Rushdie is rigid in his opinions, he is not judgmental when it comes to his characters.


Shalimar the Clown

Publisher: Random House
Length: 416
Price: $25.95
Author: Salman Rushdie
US publication date: 2005-09
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Salman Rushdie's literary landscapes are often shattered utopias -- idyllic worlds destroyed by the outside -- and real -- world's intrusion. Often, these lands' downfalls are the result of fervent nationalism, religious fanaticism, and imperialism. In Rushdie's latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, the utopian land is Kashmir, and its destruction is a result of all of these forces. Its inhabitants too -- for Rushdie's lands are metaphors for his characters -- are raped by Indian soldiers, abused by Muslim extremists, and taken advantage of by American ambassadors. They are tragic figures whose misfortunes take them to extreme -- and often ignoble -- measures. An ambitious revenge tale that spans three generations and three continents, Shalimar the Clown doesn't always juggle its soap-opera drama and brutal realism with aplomb, but at a time when much contemporary literature is content with self-deprecating irony and obsession (masked as contempt) with pop culture, Rushdie's commitment to difficult, serious topics is most welcome.

The novel begins with a crime -- the murder of ex-U.S. ambassador Max Ophuls by his Kashmiri butler -- and the meaty middle section, which comprises about 300 of the novel's 400 pages, is an elongated flashback, explaining a complicated love triangle -- the genesis of the crime. As Midnight's Children's narrator Saleem Sinai asserts that he must his story by telling the stories of his parents and grandparents, Rushdie cannot explain the killer's, who calls himself Shalimar the Clown, motivation without talking about the history of the town from which he hails, without detailing the histories of Shalimar's parents and wife and her parents, without retracing Max's roots to Germany and France and his involvement as a resistance fighter during World War II.

Amid all the globe-trotting and history lessons and family trees is a love triangle: one involving Shalimar the Clown, son of a Muslim theater troupe leader, and his wife Boonyi Kaul, daughter of a Hindu pandit. The two lovers are part of a secular Kashmiri society of performers and cooks. The two religions coexist peacefully in this town and borrow from one another; the Muslims adapt the Hindu's gods and superstitions, while the Hindus learn to include meat in their daily cooking. Born on the same day to two best friends, Shalimar the Clown and Boonyi Kaul are inexorably bound -- destined to become best friends and lovers. So when the two fourteen year olds are found making love in the wilderness, the liberal townsfolk don't ostracize the precocious youth, but encourage the two to marry. This marriage serves as a symbol of Kashmir's religious tolerance and a taunt to the Indian military guards keeping watch over the town, who disapprove of the inter-religious marriage and want Kashmir a strictly Hindu state.

But beauty, fortune, talent; these gifts often complicate Rushdie's characters as much as they help them, and Boonyi's beauty and her pride -- like Kashmir's -- give her a desirability that ends up a curse. When Boonyi dances in the troupe's performance for guest-of-honor Max Ophuls, the American ambassador to India, he is overcome with desire. The subsequent events unfold as in a soap opera: Boonyi wants to escape her provincial town, Ophuls initiates an affair but then is overcome by guilt (he has a wife), the cuckolded husband seeks revenge.

This all sounds fairly pedestrian, but in Rushdie's hands the story becomes much more complex. The melodrama of the love triangle parallels -- and directly influences(?) -- the melodrama unfolding in Kashmir. Instead of Kashmir fighting for its independence from India, now it has both India and Pakistan -- with its ascetic Islamic leader in the novel called the Iron Mullah -- to contend with. No longer able to fend for themselves, the Kashmiri people divide into those for unification with India and those for Pakistan. The political situation is further obscured with the States', who are supplying arms to the Pakistani troops, dubious involvement.

Though Rushdie is rigid in his opinions (the writer's criticism of Islam in The Satanic Versus infamously led to the fatwa against him), he is not judgmental when it comes to his characters. His characters aren't bad so much as the products of turmoil and misfortune. A cuckolded clown becomes a terrorist because of an uncontainable hurt and frustration with the Kashmiri resistance; a World War II hero becomes a seducer because he can't stand the desperate look of desire in a woman's eyes; a wife becomes a mistress because she wants a better life for herself and for her children.

Rushdie's operatic lyricism accompanies the action brilliantly here, and the power of his language, whether describing the moonlit terrain or the rape of a townswoman, is unparalleled. He's always been long-winded, but the style compliments, rather than burdens, his intricate narratives. His poetry also is in keeping with the streak of magical realism that typically runs through his novels -- he incorporates Hindu mythology, snake curses, and ominous prophesies as seamlessly as he incorporates timely pop culture references.

The novel loses some of its mystique when transported from these magical foreign lands back to the United States, and, as a result, its ending is a bit of a let down after the captivating midsection. That aside, though, Shalimar the Clown delivers what fans have come to expect from a Rushdie novel: thoughtful analyses of politics and culture, history lessons, and, of course, a great story.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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