|Ali Bhutto appears as Iskander Harappa in Shame, the 1983 novel by Salman Rushdie.|
by Salman Rushdie
You don't have to know about the history of Pakistan, but it helps, because Shame, Rushdie's third novel, is a magically realistic take on the tragic friendship between Zulifkar Ali Bhutto (Iskander Harappa) and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (General Raza Hyder). As recounted in The Struggle for Pakistan by Ayesha Jalal (2014), these two figures ran Pakistan successively between 1971 and 1988. Bhutto was the cosmopolitan playboy who championed "Islamic Socialism" and Zia, as he was known, was responsible for creating Pakistan as an Islamic Republic.
Like The House of Spirits, another work of magical realism published in the early 1980's featuring a fictionalized take on the troubled 20th century history of a small Latin American nation (Chile), Shame has a heavy dose of realism- dark realism- mixed in with the by now familiar bag of magical tricks to spice up the grim reality of 20th century Pakistani history. Anyone who has read both Midnight's Children, his 1981 break out hit, and Shame is likely to spot continuities and similarities. Rushdie's confidence as an author is on full display in Shame, with several interludes by the narrator revealing that he (the narrator) is either Rushdie himself or someone so close to Rushdie and his life experience as to make the difference negligible
It's difficult to see Shame as anything other then a kind of second chapter of Midnight's Children, and it's fair to say that there is nothing wrong with that, when one considers how intoxicating Rushdie's brand of magic realism proved after that novel was published. But Rushdie doesn't break any new thematic ground in Shame, and if you consider that The House of the Spirits was published just the year before, it might be fair to ask whether the tenets of magical realism were already becoming cliche when Shame was published in 1983.