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.
Author: Salman Rushdie | Publisher: Random House
Rating: 4 /5
“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.