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

  • ‘The Not So Lone Gunman’

    March 13, 2012

    ‘The Not So Lone Gunman’ by Tariq Ali for the London Review of Books blog, 12 March, 2012

    In most colonial wars people are arrested, tortured at random and killed. Not even a façade of legality is considered necessary. The ‘lone’ American gunman who butchered innocents in Afghanistan in the early hours of Sunday morning was far from being an exception. For this is not the act of a deranged maniac killing schoolchildren in an American city. The ‘lone’ killer is a sergeant in the US army. He’s not the first and won’t be the last to kill like this.

    The French did the same in Algeria, the Belgians in the Congo, the British in Kenya and Aden, the Italians in Libya, the Germans in South West Africa, the Boers in South Africa, the Israelis in Palestine, the US  …

  • Tariq Ali on Russia Today: ‘Syrian rebels create mayhem to blame it on Assad regime’

    July 16, 2012

    Moscow says those behind the latest massacre in Syria want to unleash sectarian violence and ignite full civil war. Over two hundred people are believed to have been killed in the central province of Hama. Both government and rebel forces blame each other for the slaughter – while the UN remains paralysed on whether to extend its observer mission, or impose sanctions. Russia Today talks to author and Middle East expert Tariq Ali from London.