Completing an epic panorama that began in fifteenth-century Moorish Spain, the concluding novel moves between the cities of the twenty-first century, from Lahore to London, from Paris to Beijing. The narrator is rung one morning and reminded that he owes a debt of honour. The creditor is Mohammed Aflatun—known as Plato—an irascible but gifted painter living in a Pakistan where “human dignity has become a wreckage.” Plato, who once specialized in stepping back from the limelight, now wants his life story written.
As the tale unravels we meet Plato’s London friend Alice Stepford, now a leading music critic in New York; Mrs. “Naughty” Latif, the Islamabad housewife whose fondness for generals forces her to flee to the salons of intellectually fashionable Paris, where she becomes an overnight celebrity, hailed as the Diderot of the Islamic world; and there’s Jindie, the Golden Butterfly of the title, the narrator’s first love. The daughter of a Chinese family long settled in Lahore, Jindie is now married to his best friend, a Republican heart surgeon in DC, whose children cannot forgive him for saving the life of a much-despised politician.
Interwoven with this chronicle of contemporary life is the turbulent history of Jindie’s family. Her great forebear, Dù Wénxiù, led a Muslim rebellion in Yunnan in the nineteenth century and ruled the region from his capital Dali for almost a decade as Sultan Suleiman.
Night of the Golden Butterfly shows Ali in full flight, at once imaginative and intelligent, satirical and stimulating.
“A humdinger of a book, full of energy, intelligence and bite.”
“Wonderfully exuberant and mischievous ... deftly intertwines strands of Chinese-Muslim with Indo-Pakistani history ... [A] jewel box of a novel.”
“If Pakistan is a land of untold stories, whispered conspiracy theories and closed-door mutinies, then thank heavens for Tariq Ali, whose access to its innermost secret chambers has made him the country’s finest historian and critic.”
“Witty and barbed, a delight to read.”
“Audacious ... Islamic politics and faith, the mille-feuille of layers that constitute belief, and the salty real world behind closed doors, are all caught starkly by Ali’s uneffusive prose. For once ‘unputdownable’ is the case.”
“Bold, clever, full of multilingual jokes, and replete with socio-historical detail.”
“Ali has satisfyingly and entertainingly concluded his Islam Quintet, a brilliant project unearthing the intellectual, sexual, artistic, and political histories heretofore kept out of mainstream conversation by both conservative Islamists and their former allies, and current enemies, in the West.”
“Ali pays perfect attention to detail, reminding the reader of the merits of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy. Whether describing the bonds of friendship, the sights and sounds of Lahore or the state of Fatherland in the throes of a military dictatorship, the writer's grip on detail never slackens.”
“Offers great insight into the history and culture of the Muslim world.”
“A novelist of distinction ... Ali offers a persuasive account of the corruption of contemporary Pakistan, especially the brutal sexual politics, and his wry, ruminative account of lifelong friendship rings with truth.”