As you may know, I recently finished reading the whole of Don Quixote – yes even book 2! Phew!
As I was slowly slowly reaching the end, I heard about Salman Rushdie’s new book: Quichotte. I thought this was the perfect coincidence to discover this new to me author, I know I know, it’s about time.
I have listened to some conferences by him, I especially remember one where he talks about the books that were important in his life. I was awed by his vast culture, and he reminded me in that respect, and with his humor as well, of Umberto Eco, who used to be a close friend of his.
I’m really glad I went into new territory and read Quichotte, here is why:
First, I was totally blown over by the first pages of the book. I loved its humor, and satirical view of our society (mostly American, British, and Indian) and culture – though I’m not sure Rushdie would even dare use this word in reference to our modern age. However, it’s not satire for the mere fun of it, and that’s probably why it worked for me (I usually don’t like satire).
This is more like a tragicomedy, a warning signal, highlighting signs of the end times (in the After Google age!) at the moral, political, and social levels, because of our doings or not doings. And then our efforts to look for another planet to escape to, when we have finally wrecked ours.
“Is that what you believe,” Son asked him, “that life is meaningless and we are turning into animals without morality?”
I’m going to start looking out for those people. The ones like me with the end time in their eyes.
Let’s just say, just say, B.G., which is to say, Before Google. The world before the birth of the monster the Internet became, before the age of electronically propagated hysteria, in which words have become bombs that blow up their users, and to make any public utterance is to set off a series of such explosions. Our age, A.G., in which the mob rules, and the smartphone rules the mob.
Now to go more into the plot. This Quichotte is not crazy with chivalry books, but with TV shows.
“Television is the god that goes on giving,” he [Quichotte] said.
He did what he always did at moments of confusion or crisis. He stayed in his room and watched TV.
And the love of his life, which will launch him on his journey, is a television talk-show superstar. Like Dulcinea though, Miss Salma R has no idea first who Quichotte is, and who knows if she will reciprocate his feelings.
Then, the book gets more complex, with more layers added, and some readers may be tempted to give up at this point. Please, don’t!
You realize we are dealing with a book within a book – which I thought was an awesome way to do what Cervantes did, especially in Book 2, and in the many meta-literature passages throughout his work – as you may remember from my notes on Don Quixote, I was fascinated by this aspect, and it works just as well here.
But then layers multiply, with some on Quichotte, some on his author, Sam DuChamp, who also wrote spy novels (which leads to another subplot), some on Sam’s family, and sometimes they combine, blurring the boundary between fiction and reality, within the novel itself.
I estimate that you’re telling the reader that the surreal, and even the absurd, now potentially offer the most accurate descriptors of real life.
He fell victim to that increasingly prevalent psychological disorder in which the boundary between truth and lies became smudged and indistinct, so that at times he found himself incapable of distinguishing one from the other, reality from “reality,” and began to think of himself as a natural citizen ( and potential inhabitant ) of that imaginary world beyond the screen to which he was so devoted, and which, he believed, provided him, and therefore everyone, with the moral, social, and practical guidelines by which all men and women should live. As time passed and he sank ever deeper into the quicksand of what might be termed the unreal real, he felt himself becoming emotionally involved with many of the inhabitants of that other, brighter world.
What’s also really neat, is that you realize the book is so much more than a modern adaptation of Don Quixote (NB: like the classic, each chapter title contains a description of what that chapter is about): his Sancho is actually his son (yes, Daddy Q, lol, has a son), and the way he came to life is a direct allusion to Pinocchio – with many more references to this other classics all along.
Their journey cannot but make you think of Dante’s Divine Comedy, The Canterbury Tales (incidentally, other amazing classics I read recently in my 50 classics challenge), or The Odyssey. I also noticed references to Moby Dick, and of course to Being There, by Kosinski.
The book is packed with tons of cultural references, from TV shows, movies, sports, music, ads, social media, the big Pharma (another important part of the plot), and many more fields, and I’m sure I recognized only a few!
Big themes are obviously present, such as for instance our stance towards mortality (is it also a message on Rushdie himself?), the environment, immigrants, guns, and terrorism.
The death of Don Quixote felt like the extinction in all of us of a special kind of beautiful foolishness, an innocent grandeur, a thing for which the world had no place, but which one might call humanity. The marginal man, the man laughably out of touch and doggedly out of step and also unarguably out of mind, revealed in his last moment as the one to care most about and mourn most deeply for. Remember this. Have this above all in mind.
Zap. News channels. Normal is guns and the normal America that really wants to be great again. Then there’s another normal if your skin color is the wrong color and another if you’re educated and another if you think education is brainwashing and there’s an America that believes in vaccines for kids and another that says that’s a con trick and everything one normal believes is a lie to another normal and they’re all on TV depending where you look, so, yeah, it’s confusing. I’m really trying to understand which this is America now. Zap zap zap.
This is all done in a very lively style and tone, that made me chuckle all along.
From time to time, the author tries something different at the level of writing, for instance in the hilarious passage on the different types of snoring (in chapter 9). Though it’s less funny if you see it as an image of our current general boredom.
The book seems to me like a tour de force to describe our shallow entertainment society. This was brilliant to use the basic story of a famous classic to do so. I also feel I only scratched the surface of the book. Like for Don Quixote, the author (Rushdie) alludes to the state of mind of his hero, but making the question more complex than for Cervantes: is Quichotte crazy, or just confused because of the craziness of our world?
VERDICT: Brilliant take on Don Quixote. Tragicomedy on our society and where it’s going.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Who is your favorite book by Rushdie?
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge from the publisher through Netgalley. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.