I heard a talk from Salman Rushdie when he spoke at the Seattle Town Hall late last year. He was promoting his latest book, a memoir, titled “Joseph Anton”. I guess I was amongst the majority of the attendees who were definitely interested in his latest work but were more honestly interested in the man himself and his ideas. He had courageously weathered a most horrendous storm for nine long years. When his book “the Satanic Verses” was condemned by the Iranian religious authorities and a death edict was leveled against him his life was turned into a petrifying and inhuman circus. Despite having lived through the terror, Salman Rushdie was not beaten. Apart from his zest for life,the things that struck me most when I heard Salman Rushdie talk were his eloquence of speech and ideas, his affability and also his great sense of humor.
I read his memoir after the event. His memoir traced his early youth growing up in Bombay, his difficult boarding school education in England and then his better years as a student of history at Cambridge. After working for a short time composing advertising jingles he decided to explore being a writer. He gained fame and notoriety when his novel “Midnight’s Children”, won the prestigious Booker Prize. Soon after he wrote “The Satanic Verses” in 1988, a fatwa or edict was set against him. The rest of the memoir related how he struggled and lived a life of hiding under constant threat of death.The memoir not only related events but Salman Rushdie also explained his theories about the role of writing in the world and the necessity to defend and uphold basic human rights such as the freedom of speech and the freedom from threat to ones life.
This is what Salman Rushdie wrote about literature in “Jospeh Anton” Random House, New York 2012
“Literature opened the universe, to increase, only if slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be. Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility to make the world feel larger, wider, than before…There were plenty of people who didn’t want the universe opened, who would, in fact, prefer it to be shut down quite a bit, and so when artists went to the frontier and pushed they often found powerful forces pushing back. And yet they did what they had to do, even at the price of their own ease, and, sometimes, of their lives. ” (p628)
Others have written about Salman’s life story. Most recently this month was an article in Vanity Fair. Read my article here about a response to some of these views about Salman Rushdie.