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

  • On honour killings in Pakistan

    December 18, 2008

    Tariq Ali on honor killings in Pakistan for The London Review of Books (Diary), December 18, 2008

    If cheating in bed was always settled by the bullet, many of us would be dead. Gerald Martin’s new biography of Gabriel García Márquez reveals that Chronicle of a Death Foretold was based on the murder of the novelist’s friend Cayetano Gentile in Sucre in 1951. He had seduced, deflowered and abandoned Margarita Chica Salas. On her wedding day Margarita’s husband was told that she was no longer a virgin. The bride was sent back to her family home. Her brothers then found Gentile and chopped his body into pieces. Márquez blamed the socio-moral dictatorship of the Catholic Church.

    But of course it is usually women who are killed for breaking codes of sexual conduct. There have been several recent cases  …

  • The Extreme Centre

    October 1, 2014

    Project Fear has had a temporary victory in Scotland but its legacy will not be a return to the status quo ante either in Scotland or elsewhere. The mind of the Scottish nation has stirred to new activity. Every single parliamentary constituency in Glasgow voted ‘Yes’. Henceforth the divide in Scotland will always be between the Unionists and those who want independence, and that will be the main issue in 2015: if Labour is dethroned by the SNP, say farewell to the UK state.

    As for the rest of us, we live in a country without an opposition. Westminster is in the grip of an extreme centre that is the coalition plus Labour: yes to austerity, yes to imperial wars, yes to a failing EU, yes to increased security measures, and yes to the status quo. And its leaders: Miliband,  …

  • An Elegy to Fatherland – Night of the Golden Butterfly reviewed by Razeshta Sethna for the Karachi Herald

    July 6, 2010

    Night of the Golden Butterfly reviewed by Razeshta Sethna for the Herald (Karachi), July 6, 2010

    In his latest novel, Tariq Ali traces the relationship between Islam and the West through tumultuous times. The story in Night of the Golden Butterfly begins in present-day “Fatherland”—an unmistakable reference to Pakistan—and travels through China and Europe.

    The central theme of the novel, which is Ali’s latest offering as part of his Islam Quintet, revolves around four friends: Dara, Zahid, Plato and Confucius. With a shared passion for poetry, they are comrades in Lahore in the 1960s. Forty years later they are brought together when Plato gets Dara—possibly named after Dara Shikoh, the Mughal-prince-turned-sufi-poet—to write his biography.

    A renowned painter but deeply scarred, the reclusive Plato acts as the catalyst in the novel: he sets the pace of events and brings  …

  • The Extreme Centre

    October 1, 2014

    Project Fear has had a temporary victory in Scotland but its legacy will not be a return to the status quo ante either in Scotland or elsewhere. The mind of the Scottish nation has stirred to new activity. Every single parliamentary constituency in Glasgow voted ‘Yes’. Henceforth the divide in Scotland will always be between the Unionists and those who want independence, and that will be the main issue in 2015: if Labour is dethroned by the SNP, say farewell to the UK state.

    As for the rest of us, we live in a country without an opposition. Westminster is in the grip of an extreme centre that is the coalition plus Labour: yes to austerity, yes to imperial wars, yes to a failing EU, yes to increased security measures, and yes to the status quo. And its leaders: Miliband,  …

  • Mayo 68: ‘El placer, inevitable’

    May 5, 2008

    ‘El placer, inevitable’, an interview with Tariq Ali for BBC Mundo, May 5, 2008

    read the interview