On February 14, 1989, Valentine’s Day, Salman Rushdie received a telephone call from a BBC journalist who told the author that he had been “sentenced to death” by the Ayatollah Khomeini. It was the first time Rushdie heard the word fatwa . His crime? To have written a novel called The... read more
“The book took more than four years to write. Afterward, when people tried to reduce it to an “insult,” he wanted to reply, I can insult people a lot faster than that.”
“The soul had many dark corners and books sometimes illuminated them. But what did he, an atheist, mean when he used the word “soul”? Was it just poetry? Or was there something noncorporeal in us, something more than flesh, blood and bone, the thing that Koestler called the ghost in the machine? He toyed with the notion that we might have a mortal soul instead of an immortal one; a spirit housed in the body that died when the body died. A spirit that might be what we meant when we spoke of das Ich, the I.”
“He was asked to review Dear Mili, a Grimm tale illustrated by Maurice Sendak for The New York Times, and though he took care to express his admiration for much of Sendak’s oeuvre he could not avoid saying that these illustrations seemed to be repetitive of what the great illustrator had done before. After that Sendak told interviewers that it was the most hurtful review he had ever received and he “hated” its author. (He wrote two other book reviews, for the British Observer, in which he found the book under consideration less wonderful than the author’s earlier work, and the authors of The Russia House and Hocus Pocus, John le Carre and Kurt Vonnegut, both friendly acquaintances until then, declared themselves his foes, too. This was what book reviewing did. If you loved a book, the author thought your praise no more than his rightful due, and if you didn’t like it, you made enemies. He decided to stop doing it. It was a mug’s game.)”
“To hide in this way was to be stripped of all self-respect. To be told to hide was a humiliation. Maybe, he thought, to live like this would be worse than death. In his novel Shame he had written about the workings of Muslim “honor culture,” at the poles of whose moral axis were honor and shame, very different from the Christian narrative of guilt and redemption. He came from that culture even though he was not religious, and had been raised to care deeply about questions of pride. To skulk and hide was to lead a dishonorable life. He felt, very often in those years, profoundly ashamed. Both shamed and ashamed.”
“Bill Buford told him: “Your friends are going to close around you like an iron circle, and inside that ring you will be able to lead your life.” That was exactly what they did. Their code of silence was unbreakable. Not one of them ever inadvertently let slip any details of his movements, not once. He wouldn’t have survived six months without them. After much initial mistrust, the Special Branch came to rely on his friends, too—to appreciate that these were serious people who understood what needed to be done.”
“But most people working at the offices of his novel’s publishers around the world received no protection. He could easily imagine the tension they felt at work and at home, for their families and themselves. Not enough attention was paid to the courage with which these “ordinary people,” who revealed themselves every day to be extraordinary, continued to do their work, to defend the principles of freedom, to hold the front line.”
“Cultural relativism is the death of ethical thought, supporting the right of tyrannical priests to tyrannize, of despotic parents to mutilate their daughters, of bigoted individuals to hate homosexuals and Jews, because it is a part of their “culture” to do so. Bigotry, prejudice and violence or the threat of violence are not human “values.” They are proof of the absence of such values. They are not manifestations of a person’s “culture.” They are indications of a person’s lack of culture. In such crucial matters, sir, to quote a great monochrome philosopher Michael Jackson, it don’t matter if you’re black or white”
“The love of the art of literature was a thing impossible to explain to his adversaries, who loved only one book, whose text was immutable and immune to interpretation, being the uncreated work of God.”
Prologue: The First Blackbird
I. A Faustian Contract in Reverse
II. "Manuscripts Don't Burn"
III. Year Zero
IV. The Trap of Wanting to Be Loved
V. "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me"
VI. Why It's Impossible to Photograph the Pampas
VII. A Truckload of Dung
VIII. Mr. Mourning and Mr. Afternoon
IX. His Millenarian Illusion
X. At the Halcyon Hotel
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