Friday, August 11, 2017

Shame by Salman Rushdie

In his third novel, Salman Rushdie explores the history and political manuverings of Pakistan at the time of its creation in the partitioning of it from India.  He does so through the lives of several Pakistani families.  Omar Khayyam Shakil is an obese doctor who was born of three reclusive sisters (no one ever knew which was the biological mother) and raised in seclusion until he rebelled and fought his way out of his background.  Raza Hyder is a soldier whose two daughters bring him nothing but confusion and shame while Iskander Harappa is a politician and playboy who is friends with both the others.

The theme of the novel is shame and how it affects the people and country of Pakistan and how religion influences every act and relationship.  As Rushdie writes, 'We who have grown up on a diet of honour and shame can still grasp what must seem unthinkable to peoples living in the aftermath of the death of God and of tragedy; that men will sacrifice their dearest love on the implacable altars of their pride.  Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type.  Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence.'

The families history intertwines.  Iskander Harappa is a notorious playboy who is accompanied on his debachuery by Shakil.  When Harappa decides to put his wild ways away, he becomes the country's ruler and employs Hyder to maintain order.  Hyder has two daughters.  The oldest, Sufiya, is simple, her life forever changed by a fever she survived when she was a toddler.  Shakil meets Sufiya and becomes obsessed with her.  He offers Hyder a marriage contract.  The family is appalled that this obese, debauched man thirty years older wants to marry their daughter, but in the end, decide that he is her only chance at a marriage and having someone to provide for her. They hide the fact that this simple girl is also capable of murderous impulses.   Hyder eventually overthrows Harappa and becomes the ruler himself.  All these events are mirrored in the history of the country and the eruptions of violence and shame that go into making a country.

This novel was written after Midnight's Children, which explored the history of India in the same fashion.  The author was influenced to write this book after reading about an 'honor killing'; a man who knifed his own daughter to death to avenge  what he saw as a blot on the family honor.  Rushdie is a master of allegory, creating individuals who portray the forces that sweep nations and influence its history.  The language is poetic even when writing of tragic, horrible events.  This book is recommended for literary readers.

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