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

  • ‘Daughter of the West’

    December 13, 2007

    ‘Daughter of the West’ by Tariq Ali for The London Review of Books, December 13, 2007

    Arranged marriages can be a messy business. Designed principally as a means of accumulating wealth, circumventing undesirable flirtations or transcending clandestine love affairs, they often don’t work. Where both parties are known to loathe each other, only a rash parent, desensitised by the thought of short-term gain, will continue with the process knowing full well that it will end in misery and possibly violence. That this is equally true in political life became clear in the recent attempt by Washington to tie Benazir Bhutto to Pervez Musharraf.

    The single, strong parent in this case was a desperate State Department—with John Negroponte as the ghoulish go-between and Gordon Brown as the blushing bridesmaid—fearful that if it did not push this through both parties  …

  • ‘What happened next? Student protests’

    January 4, 2011

    ‘What happened next? Student protests’ by Tariq Ali for the Guardian, December 27 2010

    A friend in France, watching the London student demos on an English website, emails “. . . unlike France, there’s no tribal, institutionalised memory of struggle where you are marching. Does that make this moment in Britain more fiery and unpredictable? I thought, watching the website, that maybe it might.” There’s no memory of revolution in modern Britain, but there is a historical memory of what the students did in 1968, a memory kept alive by images, songs and books and there is the memory of the anti-poll tax rebellion that did for Thatcher.

    Mixing old wines with new (Château Thatcher 1979, with the 1997 Nouveau Blair or the plastic-bottled Cameron-Clegg 2010) is always a mistake. Wisdoms old and young, however, mix admirably well. That is  …

  • ‘Why here, why now?’

    August 11, 2011

    ‘Why here, why now?’ by Tariq Ali for the London Review of Books blog, August 9, 2011

    Why is it that the same areas always erupt first, whatever the cause? Pure accident? Might it have something to do with race and class and institutionalised poverty and the sheer grimness of everyday life? The coalition politicians (including new New Labour, who might well sign up to a national government if the recession continues apace) with their petrified ideologies can’t say that because all three parties are equally responsible for the crisis. They made the mess.

    They privilege the wealthy. They let it be known that judges and magistrates should set an example by giving punitive sentences to protesters found with peashooters. They never seriously question why no policeman is ever prosecuted for the 1000-plus deaths in custody  …