Sorry. Let me start again.
You enter Salman Rushdie's realm at your own peril. And you are entirely responsible for it. Do not come back to tell me that I did not warn you, that you did not know, that you were lured. The odds are that once you are in Rushdian territory you will either leave in haste, or you will stay until the end. Whichever way you go, you will have a strong reaction towards the book you have just read. But that's Salman for you.
And 'Shame' reinforces that view in my opinion. This novel is based on the contemporary politics of Pakistan, not that you would know it, though, as Rushdie plays 'now you see it, now you don't', whenever it becomes too obvious that the country featured in the novel might be that Asian land. The shame of the title comes as the result of the political intrigues in this imaginary nation. However, far from being a political or historical narrative, the book bathes in dark humour. There's even a little nod to Walt Disney's abstract animation 'Fantasia', in my opinion, with the novel's myriad surreal characters. At some point I expected some of the personages to start performing 'Dance of the Hours' in tutus and ballet slippers.
'Shame' centres on the figure of Iskander Harappa, the Prime Minister du jour, and his relationship with his rival Raza Hyder, the President. But these two gentlemen are merely supporting characters in a tapestry that incorporates a mentally disabled woman transformed into an avenging angel (Raza's daughter Sufiya, whose name gives the book its name), another progeny, Iskander's offspring monstrous, cold-hearted daughter Ironpants, who is the real power behind the power; and last but not least, Omar Khayam Shakil, son of three sisters who claim to jointly share his maternity.
It is this last character who is left in charge of sketching out the course of action in the novel from the beginning. At his three mothers' six breasts, Omar is warned against all feelings and nuances of shame. Through his marital union with Sufiya, Rushdie explores the contradictions and problems of Pakistan, circa the Bhutto and Zia eras. The result is a devastating political satire and exquisite, uproarious entertainment.
The only flaw I can spot in the novel is that unlike its predecessor, 'Midnight's Children', 'Shame' seems effortful in parts due to Salman's indulgence in too much verbiage in certain passages, a trait seized upon by his detractors. However, the result is far from detrimental to the book, rather it is like seeing someone gorging themselves with too much chocolate. We nod silently and smile complicitly.
It is hard to believe that Salman's fatwa came only after the publication of his most famous oeuvre 'The Satanic Verses'. 'Shame' puts Islam under the microscope in a way that most imams would find at best unappealing, at worst downright antagonistic. That this critique is delivered by a brilliant mind in a florid and baroque style, is a message lost on people for whom religion is their strongest identity marker.
My conclusions are that 'Shame' is a book that deserves to be read.