Shame by Salman Rushdie
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1983. First Edition. Hardcover. 319 pages ; 21 cm. $13.95 dust jacket. Pages are unmarked and binding is firm.
Salman Rushdie's most recent book—his amazing novel of India, Midnight's Children—was greeted with a torrent of excited praise and was awarded England's prestigious Booker Prize as the best novel of 1981. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic rejoiced in admitting Rushdie to the ranks of such writers as Giinter Grass, V. S. Naipaul, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. "An author to welcome into world company!" exclaimed the New York Times Book Review. "An extraordinary novel," said the New York Review of Books, "one of the most important to come out of the English-speaking world in this generation."
In his magnificent new novel, Shame, Rushdie takes us back to the world of the East, giving us a colorful, complex fantasy at once comic and serious—an amazing mixture of history, myth, art, language, politics, religion, but all "at a slight angle to reality."
The setting: a country that is "not Pakistan, or not quite." The story: a saga of rivalry, passion, brotherhood, betrayal, sexual obsession, violence, and revenge. The narrator: the novelist himself, who weaves into his chimerical tale accounts of the actual people and actual events that are the seeds of his fantasy.
The central characters: the families of two men (one a celebrated warrior, the other a debauched playboy) engaged in a protracted duel that is played out in the political life of their country. The hero: Omar Khayyam Shakil, born (mysteriously and hilariously) of three mothers, a man plagued from birth by an improbable vertigo (a fear of living at the edge of the world) and, indeed, so peripheral by nature that even in this—the story of his own life—he is, in a sense, only a minor character. The heroine: Suftya Zinobia, a woman preternaturally receptive to others' unfelt emotions, absorbing like a sponge the unfelt shame of those around her—becoming a monster, a murderess, a human guillotine, a fiery ravening Beast of shame, the flesh-and-blood incarnation of the shame of an entire country.
The explosive comedies and delicate dramas that run through these lives—the loves, the conflicts, the exploits and adventures, the quirks of inescapable fate —are recounted with humor, compassion, and stylistic brilliance. Shame is a novel dense with life and with truth—"a sort of modern fairy tale," rooted in the events of our own world but refracted through a uniquely fertile imagination. It will confirm Salman Rushdie's stature as one of the most original and important writers of our time.
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