Rushdie’s great novel will turn 30 soon! Shame is definitely Rushdie’s most underrated novel. I am a huge Mohammed Hanif fan, but obviously no one has written anything about Pakistan that approaches Shame. Great review by Shaheryar Fazli
Excerpts from the review:
Salman Rushdie’s third novel, Shame, which will turn thirty next year, may have an unenviable legacy. Squeezed between its author’s two most famous books – and two of the most famous books of the 1980s –Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses, it is seldom given its due in discussions either of the author’s body of work, or of the direction of Pakistani fiction. Yet, even with the recent ‘boom’ in Pakistan’s literature, it remains the most ambitious English-language novel about that country, yet to be surpassed in terms of scope, inventiveness and humor.
…In the simplest terms, the novel is about the transformation of a country’s identity, the rise and fall of two men who try to control the process, and the tragic outcomes of their missions. Its raw material is Pakistani history. At first glance, Shame’s oft-quoted description of Pakistan as “a failure of the dreaming mind” seems mischievous and intended to provoke. But the failed dream here is an oppressive one: it is the dream of Urdu-speaking migrants who, after Partition in 1947, had to govern an essentially foreign nation, feeling compelled to impose a neat formula – Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s ‘one nation, one culture, one language’ – onto a diverse, unwieldy polity. The dream disappoints because the country is too multi-ethnic, too multi-lingual, in a word too multidimensional for the imposition.
Meanwhile, insurgency and brutal military suppression continue in Balochistan, the army continues to interfere in politics, and Islamization has proven very tough to reverse. If Shame’s political substance makes it relevant reading today, its language, inventiveness and storytelling force will ensure its importance as a literary work even if – fingers crossed – those issues stop being current.
Despite coming under 300 pages, Shame is a big novel that goes for big ideas, about the individual and power, about state force and its limitations, about the imagination under authoritarian rule. It’s also a kaleidoscope, the broadest and liveliest yet, of this country’s complicated personality, full of pettiness and corruption and tragedy, but also rebellion and defiance and wit.
Given the great energy in Pakistani writing today, it would be hasty to say that the trail for the Great Pakistani Novel has gone cold. The 21st Century books mentioned earlier explore such diverse themes as political violence, conspiracy, bureaucracy, class divide, gender roles, army rule, tribal code, city life – proving how rich the material is. It’s possible that another big book that tries to encompass all of it is already in the works, and this possibility, this feeling that the Pakistani novel is still on the rise, is what makes this period in the nation’s literature so exciting.
But in the meanwhile, if searching for such a book, search no further than Shame.