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.