Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Shame is Rushdie’s third novel. His first, Grimus (1975), a witty, metaphysical fantasy about Flapping Eagle, an immortal American Indian, was widely regarded as a innovative science-fiction work. Midnight’s Children (1981), a “magical realist” epic of post-emancipation India (born at midnight on January 1, 1947), won the coveted Booker Prize for its young Anglo-Indian author. Shame affirmed his place as an important figure in late twentieth century world literature.

Shame is a roman a clef, a thinly fictionalized, or fantasized, version of Pakistani history. The hanged Prime Minister, Iskander Harrapa, is based upon University of California-educated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hanged in 1978 by his erstwhile friend and successor General Zia ul-Haq (Raza Hyder). The novel’s events loosely parallel those of Pakistani history since 1947. Dr. Omar Shakil is the literary device that links their stories, and his wife, Hyder’s daughter, Sufiya, is the embodiment of the novel’s theme.

Shame, like Midnight’s Children, is a major addition to those novels loosely grouped under the heading “magical realism.” Like Gunter Grass’s Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1961) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Cien anos de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970), Shame combines the mythic and the historic, the individual and the epic, with the grand aim of artistically examining the interrelations of the individual and his national society.