Night of the Golden Butterfly

Published by Verso, 2010

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, translated into more than a dozen languages, that has been twenty years in the writing. Completing an epic panorama that began in fifteenth-century Moorish Spain, the latest 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 into 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 leads to her flight to the salons of intellectually fashionable Paris, where she is hailed as the Diderot of the Islamic world; and there’s Jindie, the Golden Butterfly of the title, the narrator’s first love. 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 reveals Ali in full flight, at once imaginative and intelligent, satirical and stimulating.

Buy from Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk

Reviews: The National, New Statesman, The Independent, Scotsman, Daily Mail, Guardian, Portland Oregonian, Georgia Straight, Herald (Karachi), Gulf News

From the archive

  • ‘Pakistan on the Brink’

    March 30, 2000

    ‘Pakistan on the Brink’ by Tariq Ali for The Nation, March 30, 2000

    Pakistan today is a complete mess, a sad example of what can happen when a once-favored “frontline state” is reduced to the status of a cold war orphan. In his recent brief visit President Clinton urged a quick return to civilian rule, but in fact few Pakistanis mourn Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s overthrow last October of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s corrupt and oppressive pseudo-democracy. The poor and the secular-liberal intelligentsia pray that the new military regime will prevent a slide toward further chaos. These hopes are likely to be dashed, since the regime is paralyzed by internal divisions. Mohammed Aziz and Mahmoud Ahmed, the two key generals flanking Musharraf, are known for their sympathies with the fundamentalist Taliban.

    Several tests confront the new strongman of Pakistan:  …

  • Tariq Ali’s speech at the National Demonstration for Gaza on 8th August, London.

    August 13, 2014

    Here is a video of Tariq Ali’s speech at the largest UK demonstration for Gaza on 8th August, London.

  • ‘A tragedy born of military despotism and anarchy’

    December 28, 2007

    ‘A tragedy born of military despotism and anarchy’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, December 28, 2007

    The assassination of Benazir Bhutto heaps despair upon Pakistan. Now her party must be democratically rebuilt

    Even those of us sharply critical of Benazir Bhutto’s behaviour and policies – both while she was in office and more recently – are stunned and angered by her death. Indignation and fear stalk the country once again.

    An odd coexistence of military despotism and anarchy created the conditions leading to her assassination in Rawalpindi yesterday. In the past, military rule was designed to preserve order—and did so for a few years. No longer. Today it creates disorder and promotes lawlessness. How else can one explain the sacking of the chief justice and eight other judges of the country’s supreme court for attempting to hold  …

  • Tariq Ali’s speech at the National Demonstration for Gaza on 8th August, London.

    August 13, 2014

    Here is a video of Tariq Ali’s speech at the largest UK demonstration for Gaza on 8th August, London.

  • ‘Obama: Great Expectations’

    November 5, 2008

    ‘Great Expectations’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, November 5, 2008

    The weight of the past, present and future will add drag to Obama’s ascent to the White House

    Barack Obama’s victory marks a decisive generational and sociological shift in American politics. Its impact is difficult to predict at this stage, but the expectations of the majority of young people who propelled Obama to victory remain high. It may not have been a landslide, but the vote was large enough with the Democrats winning over 50% of the electorate (62.4 million voters) and planting a black family firmly in the White House.

    The historic significance of this fact should not be underestimated.

    It has happened in a country where the Ku Klux Klan once had millions of members who waged a campaign of deadly terror against black citizens  …