It breaks a village: In Rushdie’s latest book, a cuckold turns to terrorism. If Salman Rushdie were a character in one of his own ornate epics, his rise to international notoriety as the target of a fatwa would be portrayed as his destiny. The events of Rushdie’s life are allegory for the unavoidable world-historical collision between rootless cosmopolitanism and theocratic absolutism, between civilization (with its values of secularism, skepticism, and relativism) and the gathering forces of a new medievalism. His greatest novels—Midnight’s Children, Shame, The Satanic Verses, and The Moor’s Last Sigh—percolate around just this kind of conflict, as India, or some subset of the subcontinent, tears itself apart. Rushdie repeatedly returns to the primal scene of a paradise squandered.
In his latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, the lost Eden is Kashmir, that landlocked sliver of loveliness caught in a bloody geopolitical tug-of-war between Pakistan and India in the aftermath of independence from Britain in 1947. Intertwined with an overripe love story is another tale altogether: the history of a country corroded and soured by sectarian struggle, deteriorating from a lively playground of legends and folk art into a breeding ground for terrorism.