A dazzling Don Quixote for the modern age—a tour de force that is as much an homage to an immortal work of literature as it is to the quest for love and family, by Booker Prize–winning, internationally bestselling author Salman Rushdie
Inspired by the Cervantes classic, Sam DuChamp, mediocre writer of spy thrillers, creates Quichotte, a courtly, addled salesman obsessed with television who falls in impossible love with a TV star. Together with his (imaginary) son Sancho, Quichotte sets off on a picaresque quest across America to prove worthy of her hand, gallantly braving the tragicomic perils of an age where “Anything-Can-Happen.” Meanwhile, his creator, in a midlife crisis, has equally urgent challenges of his own.
Just as Cervantes wrote Don Quixote to satirize the culture of his time, Rushdie takes the reader on a wild ride through a country on the verge of moral and spiritual collapse. And with the kind of storytelling magic that is the hallmark of Rushdie’s work, the fully realized lives of DuChamp and Quichotte intertwine in a profoundly human quest for love and a wickedly entertaining portrait of an age in which fact is so often indiscernible from fiction.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Salman Rushdie is the author of thirteen previous novels—Grimus, Midnight’s Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and the Best of the Booker), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, Luka and the Fire of Life, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, and The Golden House—and one collection of short stories: East, West. He has also published four works of nonfiction—Joseph Anton, The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands, and Step Across This Line—and coedited two anthologies, Mirrorwork and Best American Short Stories 2008. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. A former president of PEN American Center, Rushdie was knighted in 2007 for services to literature.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:June 19, 1947
Place of Birth:Bombay, Maharashtra, India
Education:M.A. in History, King's College, University of Cambridge
Read an Excerpt
Quichotte, an old Man, falls in Love, embarks on a Quest, & becomes a Father
There once lived, at a series of temporary addresses across the United States of America, a traveling man of Indian origin, advancing years, and retreating mental powers, who, on account of his love for mindless television, had spent far too much of his life in the yellow light of tawdry motel rooms watching an excess of it, and had suffered a peculiar form of brain damage as a result. He devoured morning shows, daytime shows, late-night talk shows, soaps, situation comedies, Lifetime movies, hospital dramas, police series, vampire and zombie serials, the dramas of housewives from Atlanta, New Jersey, Beverly Hills, and New York, the romances and quarrels of hotel-fortune princesses and self-styled shahs, the cavortings of individuals made famous by happy nudities, the fifteen minutes of fame accorded to young persons with large social media followings on account of their plastic-surgery acquisition of a third breast or their post-rib-removal figures that mimicked the impossible shape of the Mattel company’s Barbie doll, or even, more simply, their ability to catch giant carp in picturesque settings while wearing only the tiniest of string bikinis; as well as singing competitions, cooking competitions, competitions for business propositions, competitions for business apprenticeships, competitions between remote-controlled monster vehicles, fashion competitions, competitions for the affections of both bachelors and bachelorettes, baseball games, basketball games, football games, wrestling bouts, kickboxing bouts, extreme sports programming, and, of course, beauty contests. (He did not watch “hockey.” For people of his ethnic persuasion and tropical youth, hockey, which in the USA was renamed “field hockey,” was a game played on grass. To play field hockey on ice was, in his opinion, the absurd equivalent of ice-skating on a lawn.)
As a consequence of his near-total preoccupation with the material offered up to him through, in the old days, the cathode-ray tube, and, in the new age of flat screens, through liquid-crystal, plasma, and organic light-emitting diode displays, he fell victim to that increasingly prevalent psychological disorder in which the boundary between truth and lies became smudged and indistinct, so that at times he found himself incapable of distinguishing one from the other, reality from “reality,” and began to think of himself as a natural citizen (and potential inhabitant) of that imaginary world beyond the screen to which he was so devoted, and which, he believed, provided him, and therefore everyone, with the moral, social, and practical guidelines by which all men and women should live. As time passed and he sank ever deeper into the quicksand of what might be termed the unreal real, he felt himself becoming emotionally involved with many of the inhabitants of that other, brighter world, membership in which he thought of as his to claim by right, like a latter-day Dorothy contemplating a permanent move to Oz; and at an unknown point he developed an unwholesome, because entirely one-sided, passion for a certain television personality, the beautiful, witty, and adored Miss Salma R, an infatuation which he characterized, quite inaccurately, as love. In the name of this so-called love he resolved zealously to pursue his “beloved” right through the television screen into whatever exalted high-definition reality she and her kind inhabited, and, by deeds as well as grace, to win her heart.
He spoke slowly and moved slowly too, dragging his right leg a little when he walked—the lasting consequence of a dramatic Interior Event many years earlier, which had also damaged his memory, so that while happenings in the distant past remained vivid, his remembrances of the middle period of his life had become hit-and-miss, with large hiatuses and other gaps which had been filled up, as if by a careless builder in a hurry, with false memories created by things he might have seen on TV. Other than that, he seemed in good enough shape for a man of his years. He was a tall, one might even say an elongated, man, of the sort one encounters in the gaunt paintings of El Greco and the narrow sculptures of Alberto Giacometti, and although such men are (for the most part) of a melancholy disposition, he was blessed with a cheerful smile and the charming manner of a gentleman of the old school, both valuable assets for a commercial traveler, which, in these his golden years, he became for a lengthy time. In addition, his name itself was cheerful: It was Smile. Mr Ismail Smile, Sales Executive, Smile Pharmaceuticals Inc., Atlanta, GA, it said on his business card. As a salesman he had always been proud that his name was the same as the name of the corporation whose representative he was. The family name. It lent him a certain gravitas, or so he believed. This was not, however, the name by which he chose to be known during his last, most foolish adventure.
(The unusual surname Smile, by the by, was the Americanized version of Ismail, so the old traveling salesman was really Mr. Ismail Ismail, or, alternatively, Mr. Smile Smile. He was a brown man in America longing for a brown woman, but he did not see his story in racial terms. He had become, one might say, detached from his skin. This was one of the many things his quest would put in question, and change.)
The more he thought about the woman he professed to love, the clearer it became to him that so magnificent a personage would not simply keel over with joy at the first declaration of amour fou from a total stranger. (He wasn’t as crazy as that.) Therefore it would be necessary for him to prove himself worthy of her, and the provision of such proofs would henceforth be his only concern. Yes! He would amply demonstrate his worth! It would be necessary, as he began his quest, to keep the object of his affections fully informed of his doings, and so he proposed to begin a correspondence with her, a sequence of letters which would reveal his sincerity, the depth of his affections, and the lengths to which he was ready to go to gain her hand. It was at this point in his reflections that a kind of shyness overtook him. Were he to reveal to her how humble his station in life truly was, she might toss his letter in the trash with a pretty laugh and be done with him forever. Were he to disclose his age or give her details of his appearance, she might recoil from the information with a mixture of amusement and horror. Were he to offer her his name, the admittedly august name of Smile, a name with big money attached to it, she might, in the grip of a bad mood, alert the authorities, and to be hunted down like a dog at the behest of the object of his adorations would break his heart, and he would surely die. Therefore he would for the moment keep his true identity a secret, and would reveal it only when his letters, and the deeds they described, had softened her attitude toward him and made her receptive to his advances. How would he know when that moment arrived? That was a question to be answered later. Right now the important thing was to begin. And one day the proper name to use, the best of all identities to assume, came to him in that moment between waking and sleeping when the imagined world behind our eyelids can drip its magic into the world we see when we open our eyes.
That morning he seemed to see himself in a dream addressing himself awake. “Look at yourself,” his half-sleeping self murmured to his half-waking self. “So tall, so skinny, so ancient, and yet you can’t grow anything better than the straggliest of beards, as if you were a teenager with spots. And yes, admit it, maybe a little cracked in the head, one of those head-in-the-clouds fellows who mistakes cumulus, or cumulonimbus, or even cirrostratus formations for solid ground. Just think back to your favorite piece of music when you were a boy! I know, these days you prefer the warblings you hear on American Idol or The Voice. But back in the day, you liked what your artistic father liked, you adopted his musical taste as your own. Do you remember his favorite record?” Whereupon the half-dream-Smile produced, with a flourish, a vinyl LP which half-awake-Smile recognized at once. It was a recording of the opera Don Quichotte by Jules Massenet. “Only loosely based on the great masterpiece of Cervantes, isn’t it,” mused the phantom. “And as for you, it seems you’re a little loosely based yourself.”
It was settled. He climbed out of bed in his striped pajamas—more quickly than was his wont—and actually clapped his hands. Yes! This would be the pseudonym he would use in his love letters. He would be her ingenious gentleman, Quichotte. He would be Lancelot to her Guinevere, and carry her away to Joyous Gard. He would be—to quote Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—her verray, parfit, gentil knyght.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Disclaimer: I haven’t read Don Quixote. Not for any particular reason other than I haven’t gotten around to it, but because of this I’m not going to be able to compare themes, characterizations or anything else they may share. I can only look at it as a stand-alone, so apologies if I miss any obvious references or tributes to the original novel. I think the biggest drawback to being unfamiliar with Miguel de Cervantes’ masterwork & Salman Rushdie’s writing is that I had no idea where it was going. So much of the story feels meandering and nonsensical before everything finally clicks together. The two parallel character journeys blur the distinction between reality and fantasy that at times I forgot who’s perspective I was currently reading through, which I think was the point. A writer (character) is using a fictional persona to explore his own struggles and insecurities, whilst being in perpetual denial about it. The (actual) author writes about a novelist that’s writing about a former journalist—it’s like a literary Inception. In the end I didn’t know whether Rushdie himself was supposed to be represented through these characters. I still don’t. Rushdie skewers popular culture while also empathizing with those enraptured by it. He’s able to pinpoint exactly the type of man who could believably convince himself that stalking a woman is akin to an Odyssey-like quest. He makes it easy to identify with a protagonist that at first glance you may not have much in common with, but grow to see as a part of yourself—just one that may be uncomfortable to acknowledge. The story is mostly framed as a look at American culture, with an Indian-American focus and a couple detours to the U.K. and India, but I think Quichotte is still accessible to all. I’m not a huge fan of ‘pop culture dumps’ of just listing random references for readers to pat themselves on the back for recognizing, BUT this was probably the best use of it I’ve seen so far. (An example of this that’s, in my opinion, pandering would be Ready Player One.) I would recommend this book if you’re willing to set aside any pre-set rules for reality or how people behave and don’t really mind non-answers. Be ready to get a little lost before finally being led to the (kind of) summit.
“As I plan my quest,” Quichotte said, drinking from a can of ginger ale, “I ponder the contemporary period as well as the classical. And by the contemporary I mean, of course, The Bachelorette.” I liked Quichotte (pronounced in this variation, on instruction from the author, as key-shot). It manages to be both fun and important — witty and conversational while dealing with themes like opioid addiction, racism, loneliness, childhood sexual assault, family, and regret. (Okay, that makes the book sound really depressing, but it’s not!) Our story’s hero is Quichotte, of course — an old man selling pharmaceuticals on the road, living in inexpensive motels and hotels that he can only hope have cable included. In his old age and loneliness, he’s really started to believe that television is reality, and so he’s fallen in love with one Miss Salma R, a sort of Oprah 2.0 (even called “Oprah 2.0” by book-Oprah herself). Both Quichotte and Salma grew up in the same tiny village in India, on the same street even, and found their way to the US. Quichotte decides that he’s going to drive across the country to woo Salma, because this is the age of anything-can-happen and love will find a way. He also imagines a son into existence, whom he names Sancho. Salma, for her part, is bipolar, depressed, and an opioid user. And she finds herself entangled with Dr. RK Smile, Quichotte’s cousin and former employer, who sells them. But that’s not all there is to the story. A few chapters in, we’re introduced to the Author, referred to as Brother, who’s writing Quichotte’s story. He’s also from that street in the small village of India. He is estranged from Sister, just as Quichotte is estranged from his sister. In fact the more you read, the more you realize that Brother is pouring himself into Quichotte’s story. What makes this novel really engaging is the way you can watch Brother grapple with his own life and family as he writes his way through Quichotte’s story. Without the element of Author/Brother and Sister, I think the story would have fallen flat. But with it, we get a glimpse into the human experience through his and his characters’ eyes. Without spoilers, the ending was weird. I’d love to chat about it with anyone who’s read the book. I also found that I could easily put it down when I was called away to other things — in fact, when I reached the end of part 1, I paused and read two or three other books with more urgent timelines before starting up again. But I still enjoyed it, I’m glad I read it, and I can see why it caught the eye of the Booker Prize judges.
VERDICT: Brilliant take on Don Quixote. Tragicomedy on our society and where it’s going. First, I was totally blown over by the first pages of the book. I loved its humor, and satirical view of our society (mostly American, British, and Indian) and culture – though I’m not sure Rushdie would even dare use this word in reference to our modern age. However, it’s not satire for the mere fun of it, and that’s probably why it worked for me (I usually don’t like satire). This is more like a tragicomedy, a warning signal, highlighting signs of the end times (in the After Google age!) at the moral, political, and social levels, because of our doings or not doings. And then our efforts to look for another planet to escape to, when we have finally wrecked ours. Now to go more into the plot. This Quichotte is not crazy with chivalry books, but with TV shows. And the love of his life, which will launch him on his journey, is a television talk-show superstar. Like Dulcinea though, Miss Salma R has no idea first who Quichotte is, and who knows if she will reciprocate his feelings. Then, the book gets more complex, with more layers added, and some readers may be tempted to give up at this point. Please, don’t! You realize we are dealing with a book within a book – which I thought was an awesome way to do what Cervantes did, especially in Book 2, and in the many meta-literature passages throughout his work – as you may remember from my notes on Don Quixote, I was fascinated by this aspect, and it works just as well here. But then layers multiply, with some on Quichotte, some on his author, Sam DuChamp, who also wrote spy novels (which leads to another subplot), some on Sam’s family, and sometimes they combine, blurring the boundary between fiction and reality, within the novel itself. What’s also really neat, is that you realize the book is so much more than a modern adaptation of Don Quixote (NB: like the classic, each chapter title contains a description of what that chapter is about): his Sancho is actually his son (yes, Daddy Q, lol, has a son), and the way he came to life is a direct allusion to Pinocchio – with many more references to this other classics all along. The book is packed with tons of cultural references, from TV shows, movies, sports, music, ads, social media, the big Pharma (another important part of the plot), and many more fields, and I’m sure I recognized only a few! Big themes are obviously present, such as for instance our stance towards mortality (is it also a message on Rushdie himself?), the environment, immigrants, guns, and terrorism. The book seems to me like a tour de force to describe our shallow entertainment society. This was brilliant to use the basic story of a famous classic to do so. I also feel I only scratched the surface of the book. Like for Don Quixote, the author (Rushdie) alludes to the state of mind of his hero, but making the question more complex than for Cervantes: is Quichotte crazy, or just confused because of the craziness of our world?
Semi-controlled chaos.... I felt that this one wasn’t for my taste. Generally, I can get into a Rushdie book and enjoy it but maybe I just wasn’t up for this one (may need a redo at a later time to adjust my perspective). It is a bit chaotic and wild and this was not where I needed to be right now. I guess timing is everything with the books in our lives. I’m sure a reread later will cure me of this funk. But for now it wasn’t my thing #Quichotte #NetGalley #RandomHousePublishingGroup #RandomHouse
3.5 One reviewer mentioned that once you get past the first 85 pages, the novel flies. For me, it went the other way. "Quichotte" started out as imaginative, literate, playful, But as the novel rolled on, I lost the vibe, something that can happen with me and picaresque novels. I was delighted at Quichotte's creation of his imaginary son, Sancho Smile, especially when Sancho was trying to figure out why he's in black and white and everyone else is in color. There are similar captivating moments but it just went on too long. Yes, the writing is luscious, but more was needed to propel Quichotte through to the end of his quest. ~~Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always the most patient reader. This time, I'm glad I took others' advice and hung in there. Quichotte was my first Rushdie novel, and it's true what people say about his style taking some getting used to. In this case, the chapters switch point of view, and each character's voice is written in a slightly different style. The other thing that took patience was waiting for the different threads of the story to come together. At first, I was confused because I couldn't see how the pieces we're introduced to would finally become a cohesive story. At the 20-25% mark (four or five chapters), things started to come together. I got used to Rushdie's style, and I realized that although the narration was in third person, sentence construction often reflected characters' mental states. (I don't think his style's for everyone, but it works well in telling this story.) Finally, the entire complex tale came together beautifully. I'm not one to regularly re-read books, but Quichotte might just make my re-read list. Like another reviewer noted, I think things might come together for me even better the second time around. (If I do, I may revisit this review.) Four stars, and if you do decide to embark on reading Quixotte, make sure you're in the mindset to be patient. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for providing me with a DRC of this novel.
While I expect magical realism from Rushdie I never thought I’d see him write what is pretty well a science fiction novel! From a son wished into being and made into a real boy by a talking cricket, people turning into mastodons and rampaging through a small town, spontaneously appearing black holes that threaten to end the world, and machines that create portals to other dimensions, my eyes were absolutely popping out with the astonishing delights. What a crazy ride and so unexpected! One can’t be in a hurry while reading Rushdie. The story doesn’t take a straight path from the beginning at “A” to the end at “B”. It meanders gradually towards an end with copious side trails. The story might start with one character then side-track into a long description of a minor character. We get an accounting of their life and all the way back through their ancestors, only for it to have no real impact on the basic plot. The diversion is purely for amusement or curiosity. Every character has a story and Rushdie tends to tell them all. In this book the journey is more important than the destination and it is best to just go with the flow and wash up wherever it takes you. Rushdie is known for his brilliant social and political commentary. There is always a message to his books often disguised in humour and quirkiness so it never feels preachy. Quichotte examines racism, xenophobia and the “send her back” mentality. Are minorities and immigrants ever truly welcome in America? Could this be any timelier? This author always has his finger directly on the issues of the day and brutally skewers those who will be on the wrong side of history. If you’ve read The Golden House you know his feelings on the current American president and the subsequent inflammation of racism and hatred. This feels like a story that is intrinsically entrenched in current events and I hope someday people can look back at this and be thankful that American society moved past this appalling period of intolerance and bigotry. I can’t imagine any character more apropos for Rushdie to tackle than Don Quixote, the head in the clouds, out of touch with reality, idealistic dreamer. While the author is the complete opposite of quixotic you can tell that he really enjoys such a surreal hallucination of a narrative. Despite some dark and melancholy parts I could feel the joy that he took in this storyline and I have to say that I felt a lot of joy reading it. The mastodons made me laugh out loud! This is a long, strange trip and I suspect it won’t be to everyone’s tastes but if you love Rushdie then Quichotte is a true pleasure. Thank you to Random House for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
Ismail Smile is a traveling sales rep of Indian birth, selling opioid medicines for his family firm, Smile Pharmaceuticals. Since he spends much of his life on the road in motels, he spends his free time watching TV, and he becomes obsessed with former Bollywood star Salma R, who is now a big name in the US. Convinced that he and Salma are destined for each other, Smile adopts the name Quichotte and takes off on a quest across the country to find his love. Quichotte/Smile is the fictional creation of Sam DuChamp a.k.a. Brother, a British writer from India who has hitherto earned his reputation writing spy novels. Brother’s own story is also told , interspersed between the chapters recounting Quichotte’s quest. Brother’s relationships echo Quichotte’s in many ways, and as we learn more about both men the boundaries between their realities becomes more and more blurred. Quichotte in turn creates a fictional character in the form of a son, whom he names Sancho, and Sancho becomes more real as the quest progresses. Brother, on the other hand, is estranged from his own son and has not seen him for several years. Which leads to the obvious question: Rushdie himself is an author who was also born in India; how much might DuChamp’s reality spread to Rushdie’s world, our own modern society? It is beyond me to describe a book that has references to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Norse mythology/video games, Twelfth Night, a 1951 SF story by Katherine MacLean, Eugene Ionesco, and Vladimir Nabokov, among MANY others, as well as pop culture references as varied as Heath Ledger, Lucille Ball, Freddie Mercury, Dr. Who, The Dating Game, Kenya Moore, Roseanne Barr, and Smurfs. There are not many writers who could draw on such a wide range of source material, and probably even fewer readers who would “get” most of them. Rushdie is not just showing off his erudition; the scope of these references is relevant. If you miss many of them, though, don’t worry about it; just enjoy and admire! There is, indeed, much to enjoy and admire in Quichotte, so much that I decided to reread it before I wrote my review, something I almost never do. I think I enjoyed the second read even more than the first, as I picked up on things I missed the first time around, especially since I now had the omniscient perspective and knew how things would end. Quichotte is too complex a book to do justice to it in the space of a review. Unlike many literary works described as “complex”, though, it is not enigmatic or ponderous. The writing is beautiful. I highlighted many quotable passages. I laughed a lot. Rushdie has created a brilliantly imaginative story about people and their relationships. Quichotte is worth reading for all of those reasons. But the author has a message, and his message is not upbeat. As a result of too much TV, Quichotte suffers from a “psychological disorder within which the boundary between truth and lies becomes smudged and indistinct…. Incapable of distinguishing… reality from “reality””. Is our present-day addiction to mass media, especially “reality” TV, causing us to lose our sense of reality? Worse still, is it affecting reality itself? Rushdie seems worried about this possibility, and he makes his case both entertainingly and effectively. My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance review copy of this book.
This is one for fans of Rushdie. Regular readers of his work know that you need patience to follow his flights of fancy and that's true here as well. A 21st century take on Don Quixote for sure but don't worry if you aren't familiar with the Cervantes original because it won't help you here. There's a huge cast of characters, interlocking stories, rabbit holes, and a story that meanders at times and speeds at others. It's overwritten for my taste but others will appreciate how Rushdie uses language. It's almost impossible to characterize. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. I wouldn't make this a first taste of Rushdie but it's always nice to read something new from his imagination.