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.

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

From the archive

  • ‘Fight the power’

    April 23, 2005

    ‘Fight the power’ b y Tariq Ali for The Guardian, April 23, 2005

    It is as difficult to define or classify Islamic cinema as it would be a Christian, Jewish or Buddhist one. The language of cinema has always been universal. Interpretations vary. Censors had different priorities: in 1950s Hollywood a married couple could not share a double bed and had to be clothed. In South Asia, the censor’s scissors clipped out kisses from western films. The birth of commercial and art movies did not remain confined in the west for too long.

    The Lumière brothers first exhibited moving pictures in Paris in 1896. A year later there was a private showing at the Yildiz palace in Istanbul. The viewers consisted of the Ottoman Sultan/Caliph – the temporal and spiritual leader of Sunni Islam – and a few  …

  • ‘Egypt Chaos Defines Bleeding in Despot Arab World’

    February 4, 2011

    ‘Egypt Chaos Defines Bleeding in Despot Arab World’ by Tariq Ali for Bloomberg, February 4 2011

    “Freedom lies behind a door closed shut,” the great Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqi wrote in the last century. “It can only be knocked down with a bleeding fist.” More than that is bleeding in the Arab world at the moment.

    The uprisings we are witnessing in Egypt have been a rude awakening for all those who imagined that the despots of the Arab world could be kept in place provided they continued to serve the needs of the West and their harsh methods weren’t aired on CNN and BBC World. But while Western establishments lull themselves to sleep with fairy tales, ordinary citizens, who are defeated and demoralized, mull their revenge.

    The French government seriously considered sending its paratroopers to save former President  …

  • Tariq Ali: Hugo Chávez and Me

    March 7, 2013

    Tariq Ali for the Guardian, March 6th 2013

    Once I asked whether he preferred enemies who hated him because they knew what he was doing or those who frothed and foamed out of ignorance. He laughed. The former was preferable, he explained, because they made him feel that he was on the right track. Hugo Chávez’s death did not come as a surprise, but that does not make it easier to accept. We have lost one of the political giants of the post-communist era. Venezuela, its elites mired in corruption on a huge scale, had been considered a secure outpost of Washington and, at the other extreme, the Socialist International. Few thought of the country before his victories. After 1999, every major media outlet of the west felt obliged to send a correspondent. Since they all said the same thing  …