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Night of the Golden Butterfly: A Novel

The final volume in Tariq Ali’s acclaimed cycle of historical novels, The Islam Quintet

Night of the Golden Butterfly concludes the Islam Quintet—Tariq Ali’s much lauded series of historical novels, over twenty years in the writing, which has been translated into a dozen languages

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.

Reviews

  • “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.”

Blog

  • Post Orlando / Post Brexit Anti-Islamophobia Reading List

    Following the tragic Orlando massacre at a gay nightclub, both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called for a return to “the spirit of 9/12,” a reference to a dark period of racism, surveillance, and state sanctioned Islamophobia after the September 11th attacks. In the United Kingdom, instances of xenophobia and Islamophobia have reportedly surged following the EU referendum, leaving migrants and minorities, particularly Muslim women, vulnerable to attack and discrimination. As events unfold and the "Brexit" debates continue, we present a reading list of key titles that shed light on the origins of Islamophobia and ways we can organize to fight it. 

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  • Tariq Ali: 'A Letter from Atlantis'

    Today marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Daniel Bensaïd, one of the most gifted French Marxists of his generation. In this extract from the foreword to Daniel's autobiography, An Impatient Life, Tariq Ali reflects upon his life and thought.



    Successful revolutions always try to reproduce themselves. They usually fail. Napoleon carried the Enlightenment on the end of a bayonet, but English reaction, Spanish nationalism and Russian absolutism, finally defeated him. The triumphant Bolsheviks, disgusted by social-democratic capitulation at the advent of the First World War, orchestrated a split within the working class and formed the Communist International to extend the victory in Petrograd to the entire world. They were initially more successful than the French. Premature uprisings wrecked the revolution in Germany, destroying its finest leaders – Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and many others – and driving the German landed and bourgeois elite into Hitler’s embrace. In Spain, a united front of the European fascist powers (passively assisted by Britain and France) brought Franco to power. In France and Italy, the Communist platoons grew into huge battalions during the Second World War and excercised an unchallenged hegemony within the working class for three decades, but without any meaningful strategy to dismantle capital- ism. Here the close alliance with the narrowly defined needs of the Soviet state precluded any such possibility. Communists in China and Vietnam proved more successful, for a while. The Cuban revolution, the last till now, was no exception. Its leaders, too, were convinced that careful organisation and a handful of armed cadres could succeed anywhere in South America. It was a tragic error, costing the lives of Che Guevara and hundreds of others across the continent.

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  • Video: Tariq Ali, The Twilight of Democracy, Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2015

    Tariq Ali discusses ideas outlined in his book The Extreme Centre: A Warning, during this years Festival of Dangerous Ideas. 


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Other books by Tariq Ali