Pinocchioed into existence, Sancho gets the help of another fairy tale character: a personal Jiminy Cricket, who naturally speaks Italian (“Cosa vuoi, paisan? What do you wish from me?”) and provides Sancho with some cash.
No explanation is given and none is needed. Rushdie has always written as though the impossible and the actual have the same right to exist. Fiction is clearer than what we call real life in this respect — and, in any case, the question of what is real is a question asked but not answered by the novel. That is, the answer is askew to the question, and we shall come to it by and by — because by and by is how the novel proceeds, story opening out from story, jumbles of past, present and future, with alternative histories and futures. And who is telling the story anyway?
In Rushdie’s telling, Quichotte is the invention of a writer named Sam DuChamp, a washed-up spy novelist of small sales and broken dreams. He lives in New York, estranged from both his rich sister and his bewildering son, trying out a story about an elderly Indian estranged from his rich sister, wishing he had a son to talk to, falling in love. But Sam DuChamp is a pen name. This author, also called Brother, is an Indian born in what is now Mumbai. His parents, he realizes, would have known Quichotte’s parents, “except that one set of parents was imaginary.”
DuChamp apprehends that Quichotte is a shadow-self he has not had the courage to confront. Now the book is writing its (shadow) self, although books are said to need an author. DuChamp knows he must not let the end write itself, because “the end cannot be changed after it has ended.” And DuChamp is short on time. He has a heart condition.
Every significant character in the story is ill in some way. DuChamp’s rich sister has cancer. The “Interior Event” that left Quichotte with his limp turns out to have been a stroke, whose (partial) recovery took two years. Quichotte’s sister also had cancer. Miss Salma R, with a bipolar diagnosis, calls herself manic-depressive and is dangerously addicted to the lethal potions of Quichotte’s ex-boss and greedy cousin, Dr. Smile. The mental state of everyone is questionable — but that would depend on the question.