Well, that was a wild and crazy ride! Enjoyed this novel but it's totally off the wall. You just have to go with it and enjoy it. It's a story within a story with constant cultural and literary references. It's witty, charming, whacky and thought provoking and felt especially relevant in its commentary on racism.
I found this a difficult book to get to grips with as did the other members of the reading group. It just did not seem to be a novel that was able to draw us in to start with. I myself had two goes at the first couple of pages before I could begin to read without being bored. I wanted to persevere as I have read Midnight's Children and Satanic Verses years ago and both of these books were well researched and gave a fascinating insight into their respective historical periods. By contrast, I found almost immediately that Quichotte was a much lighter, and at times, sillier story. It takes its inspiration from the novel Don Quixote and his journey with his companion, Sancho Panza. It is a journey of morality and experience as well as the physical journey. This modern Quichotte and his son Sancho travel across America.
The book seems to be written to appeal to the American audience. They travel to major cities, sometimes in a trailer and meet some unpleasant US citizens, who display quite open and hostile racism towards them. Quichotte's way(and Rushdie's) way of explaining the cause and effect of racism are told to Sancho. He therefore becomes the subject to whom the opinions and paradoxes are explained. Sancho has only just been born and so has no awareness or bias as to what he should think or how he should respond to insults. His instinct tells him to react with anger and retaliation.
I found these characters to be quite vague. It is difficult in the first section to picture the characters who are referred to as Sister, Brother, ~Sad Faced Older painter, etc. It doesn't help the narrative or reader engagement to have so little to go on. Similarly there is a jokey element to the names of Dr Smile, Ismail Smile (Smile Smile) and Happy Smile. I find these quite juvenile ideas.
When we meet Sister, the Holly-Bollywood actress Salma the story begins to pick up pace. At last we get a character who is well described and to whom we can relate. The journey is intended to lead to the meeting between Salma and Quichotte. It becomes an adventure/ love story. On the journey Sancho is given the voice of a btruculent teenager who asks lots of questions and queries why they have to make the journey in Quichotte's chosen way.
At times the book has some good references to historical events in greek and Roman history. Perhaps Rushdie is being a touch self-indulgent in several sections of the book. I found it hard to believe that a travelling salesman from mid town America had "swam with dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia and celebrated Bakr Eid with the shawl weavers in the high mountain village of Ari near the Kolahoi Glacier in Kashmir," etc. That does not fit with the character being described here.
I liked some of the funny moments when Salma's drug dependency is described and the role of Dr Smile in dealing.
I think that my early expectation of this being a good read is based on the author's fame and success but I found that this book was hard going for much of the way.
Lesley C: I haven’t read Don Quixote so I can’t compare! I feel that the story was slow to start but got better as it went along as it is funny and up to date! I quite like the quotes about the population of different states and countries! I found it a bit confusing about some of the characters, who was real and who was not!
Dympna: The cover is rather dull and uninspiring is the first impression of the novel. The author's well known status is what would make most people pick it up off the shelf. Noteably the blurb on the back is about a different story. Very odd.
The cover illustration of the stick man and boy figure reflects the early chapters where Smile meets his son, Sancho.
I found it bizarre also in the early pages to being given clues as to how to pronounce the name. The suggested Key Shot stikes me that this book is very much written for the American audience. As he travels round the US he meets some of the stereotypes of each state.
Much of the novel is hard to believe in and it is hard to stay focussed for that reason. For example: would a travelling salesman have travelled so extensively. Seems unlikely.
Many factors like this seem self indulgent on the part of the writer. The names Brother, Sister, Sad Faced older Painter make it hard to believe in, to pictire, to empathise with any of his characters. They are vague.
I liked in contrast the story of Salma. Here is a character we could picture and identify with. She is drawn with her history, career and failings. At the point I begin to like the story more. We have been given a narrative that draws us in.
Liz: I think he created a travelling companion to give multiple views points and counterpoints to the main characters actions and thoughts.
The struggles of life are eternal and how we navigate them seems to remain pretty constant, so the parallels between the two stories and timelines in my opinion reflected that.
I was not inspired by this book to read Don Quichotte.