Shame’s characters are all mythic, larger than life. Omar Khayyam Shakil, the most fully realized character, is followed from his fabulous conception to his grisly death. Not only his father but also his mother is unknown. He is the child of three once-wealthy recluse sisters (Chhunni, Munee, and Bunny). On the death of their father, who has never permitted them to leave the huge, ancient house, they have a party for the local British colonial administrators and once again seal off their home from the world. All undergo the symptoms of pregnancy and a child is born, to be nursed by all three. Omar grows up in the decaying mansion, crammed with glories of the past. Spoiled by his mothers, scorned by the town’s people, fat, unattractive, and lecherous, Omar is an unlikely hero. After he has left home to become a doctor, a second child, Babar, a future revolutionary, is even more mysteriously born.
General Raza Hyder is a more conventional protagonist. The product of a wealthy, traditionalist Muslim Pakistani family, he rescues his bride-to-be, Bilquis, and introduces her into his ultra-fundamentalist Muslim home, whose forty daughters and wives share a single sleeping room under the iron hand of the matriarch, his grandmother. (It is here that Bilquis becomes friends with Rani Humayun, Iskander Harrapa’s bride-to-be.) Salman Rushdie’s description of Hyder serves as an example of the novel’s wry technique of characterization: five-foot-eight, “no giant, you’ll...
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