At first blush Quichotte, Salman Rushdie‘s newest novel, (Penguin Random/House) would seem to be a simple retelling of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The first character we meet will name himself Quichotte ( according to the author’s introduction for purposes of this volume pronounced key-SHOT – although he adds the caveat that reader’s may chose any of the variants for saying the name of the famous Don they prefer) and will travel with a companion named Sancho on a quest to prove his love for his lady fair.
However, as we progress through the pages and twists of Rushdie’s narrative, Quichotte turns into far more than just a simple quest. For while there’s an epic journey we gradually learn all may not be as it seems. The character we initially think of as the main character of the book is actually a character in a novel being written by another character – the author named – well we’re not sure as he’s simply referred to as either by his pen name or the signifier Brother.
As we wander further in both stories we begin to see remarkable similarities between their tales. Both the writer and his character are originally from the city formally known as Bombay (now Mumbai) in India. Both are cut off from their sole surviving family member, a sister, because of something they’ve done, and they both have a strained relationship with a son. Well, to be clear, only the author technically has a son, his Quichotte’s son is an imaginary creation named Sancho whom he wills into existence to be his travelling companion.
Confused? If so it’s probably more my fault than Rushdie’s. While there is naturally some instance of displacement as we start to switch between the two ‘realities’ created, Rushdie has created a masterful carousel which allows us to effortlessly circle between them without mishap.
If the lines between reality and fiction seem blurred in Quichotte it’s because they are. Like our world, where a celebrity can grow up to become president of the United States and so called Reality TV shows are all the rage, the line between fiction and non-fiction tends to be a bit blurry. Quichotte’s world is a blend of what he sees on TV and what he can will into existence.
However, real reality, in the shape of life in America for a person of colour, have a way of intruding. Quichotte and Sancho are verbally and physically assaulted because of their Indian origins as they make their way across the country. When the author and his real son retrace his fictional characters’ steps they step into similar situations. Thankfully, since the author knows what’s going to happen, after all he had written it previously, he’s able to prevent some of the sadness that occurred in his fiction.
Quichotte could have ended up being a bit of a mess as Rushdie has spread a pretty wide net when it comes to the subject matter he’s trying to catch. Thankfully he’s able to pick up the seemingly scattered and unconnected realities of his story and weave them together into something that will resonate with anyone who is feeling the disconnect of the times.
In fact he has written what could be the perfect modern fable. On one level a fantasy featuring a hero quest for something that doesn’t exist and on the other a journey towards the hope of redemption and finding one’s way home. Quichotte is a story within a story which will ease the pain of your heart and make you feel a little less alone in this strange new world we find ourselves occupying.