Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
This book is one wild ride: a hectic riffling through the back catalogue of literature, a throwing of books into the back seat of an unglamorous car, and a helter-skelter drive across an America heaving and straining under the forces that gleefully assemble to tear it apart. Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte is, yes, a re-writing of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, set in current-day America and starring, like the original, an elderly gent deranged by TMS (too many stories) Syndrome. Rushdie’s Quichotte has had his mind discombobulated not by an oversupply of tales of chivalry and knights-errantry, but by an over-viewing of daytime and reality TV. Our new Sancho is not a faithful retainer but Quichotte’s phantom son, a quest for filial contact reminding this reader of Rushdie’s 1990 Haroun and the Sea of Stories. This book, like that one, is a picaresque adventure tale, tumbling freely from one madcap episode to the next.
As with Cervantes, the writer of Quichotte’s story also makes it into Rushdie’s book, as the character Brother. His story is given its own chapters and we observe how Brother’s life (estranged sister, prodigal son, etcetera) mirrors and shapes Quichotte’s. This doppler structure gives Rushdie a rich vein to work in terms of implied and overt observations regarding written fictions and the fictions within which we live.
Quichotte is both joyous and deeply melancholy in its treatment of familial relations and the state of the union. It steers vertiginously between despair for a broken world and hope for the possibility of forgiveness and love amongst the pieces. Quichotte is a dance to the crazy syncopation of an America lumbered with an idiot president, manic lying (‘errorism’), and a plague of opioids. There’s an awful lot to like in this overstuffed armchair, this elegant echo-chamber, this polyglot, messy, infinitely literate book.