|Padma Lakshmi and Salman Rushdie|
Rushdie has no luck with women, or an alternate reading, has no talent for a happy, settled home life. But he loves people, he loves himself, and he tells a pretty good story about finding himself in some dicey straits after insulting the Prophet in The Satanic Verses and waking up to find extremist Muslims the world over trying to kill him. The memoir is part spy-novel and part a who's-who of the British literary scene as he jumps from secret location to secret location. Rushdie ends up spending a lot of time as a real-estate agent trying to find the next safe house while wasting an inordinate amount of time trying to make sure his security officers don't do something dumb like accidentally shooting loaded guns inside his various "safe" houses. But he also has the opportunity, through his new public notoriety, to brush shoulders with some very interesting people.
It's a little dangerous for a person who writes about himself in third person to throw around charges of narcissism, but he wouldn't be Rushdie if he didn't tread on thin ice. That thin ice, of course, being the premise of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie writes that "Revelation was to be understood as an interior, subjective event, not an objective reality, and a revealed text was to be scrutinized like any other text... the text was to be regarded as a human artifact and thus, like all such artifacts, prey to human fallibility and imperfection" (24). Did Rushdie know what he was doing when he wrote The Satanic Verses? Of course he did. He was raised an Indian Muslim and had a pretty damn good idea about what one can and can't say about the Prophet and the Koran without getting in trouble. Did he in any way anticipate the reaction to his book? I don't believe he did, by his frightening descriptions of his horror in learning about knife attacks on translators of his book, the death of another translator, a professional hit on one of his publishers, and a running tally of people killed in riots around the world based on his writing.
|The Author, Pre-Fatwa|
Rushdie argues long and hard for the literary merit of The Satanic Verses, in which he fails. The book was good, provocative, but not great. Midnight's Children remains, inarguably, the best thing he's ever written. But Rushdie does make a poignant case for the importance of free speech. "At the heart of the dispute over The Satanic Verses... was a question of profound importance: Who shall have control over the story? Who has, who should have, the power not only to tell the stories with which, and within which, we all lived, but also to say in what manner those stories may be told?" (360). The entire controversy over The Satanic Verses boils down to an argument of who gets to tell stories. Should people be able to tell stories about you that you don't like? It happens, as Rushdie learns to his great chagrin. But the gift of a free and democratic society is that you get to tell your own stories in response. "Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only 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" (628). In the end, Rushdie won. He's alive, he made a killing off the The Satanic Verses (although a lot of the profits went toward his security expenses), and a grumpy old leader in Iran ended up making Rushdie the most famous writer in the world.