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At the center of Shalimar the Clown are Max Ophuls, “one of the architects of the postwar world,” a charismatic, larger than life former hero of the French Resistance in World War II, the United States’ ambassador to India, head of the American effort to support the mujahadeen during the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan, and world-renowned power broker; Boonyi, the beautiful young Kashmiri dancer he seduces and abandons, who returns to her village in disgrace; Noman Sher Noman (alias Shalimar), Boonyi’s childhood sweetheart and husband, who is transformed from a popular entertainer into a terrorist and murderer by their affair; and Max and Boonyi’s illegitimate daughter, India, who is raised by Max and his wife and living in Los Angeles when the story begins. The typically rich and eccentric supporting cast includes Olga Volga (“the last surviving descendant of the legendary potato witches of Astrakhan”), Firdaus Begum Noman (Shalimar’s mother, a snake sorceress), the “Iron Mullah” (a Muslim terrorist leader), Colonel Kachhwaha (leader of the Indian armed forces in Kashmir), a Gujar prophetess, a Filipino terrorist leader, and an Indian film star.

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On the second page readers learn that “the ambassador was slaughtered on [India’s] doorstep like a halal chicken dinner, bleeding to death from a deep neck wound caused by a single slash of the assassin’s blade.” Over the next 394 pages readers learn why, how, and by whom. To answer these questions, Rushdie takes his readers to Kashmir, the novel’s paradise lost, and the idyllic village of Pachigam, where Hindus, Muslims, and Jews have lived for centuries in peace; to the Indian army and Muslim terrorist camps, where the forces that will tear Kashmir and Pachigam apart are trained, equipped, and ideologically indoctrinated; to World War II France, where the...

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