Reading Salman Rushdie

The recent attack on celebrated Indian-born British-American writer Sir Salman Rushdie is a shocking reminder of the lurking threats to freedom of speech and expression and has reignited the debate on censorship.

Rushdie’s work often combines magical realism with historical fiction and primarily deals with connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilizations, typically set on the Indian subcontinent.

Author of 14 novels, a book of stories and 4 works of nonfiction, Rushdie’s books have been translated into over forty languages. He has received the Freedom of the City in Mexico City, Strasbourg and El Paso, and the Edgerton Prize of the American Civil Liberties Union. He holds the rank of Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres – France’s highest artistic honor. Between 2004 and 2006 he served as President of PEN American Center and for ten years served as the Chairman of the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival, which he helped to create. In June 2007 he received a Knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honors. In 2008 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named a Library Lion of the New York Public Library. In addition, Midnight’s Children was named the Best of the Booker – the best winner in the award’s 40 year history – by a public vote.

Rushdie adapted Midnight’s Children for the stage. It was performed in London and New York by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 2004, an opera based upon Haroun and the Sea of Stories was premiered by the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center. A film of Midnight’s Children, directed by Deepa Mehta, was released in 2012. The Ground Beneath Her Feet, in which the Orpheus myth winds through a story set in the world of rock music, was turned into a song by U2 with lyrics by Salman Rushdie.

After his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), Rushdie became the subject of controversy, provoking protests and debates about the roles of freedom of expression and political violence. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwa calling for his assassination issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, in 1989; he was forced into hiding and put under police protection. 

Explore a selection of Salman Rushdie’s most notable works with your Livingston Library card:

Non Fiction

Joseph Anton: A Memoir

This is the extraordinary story of how a writer was forced underground, moving from house to house, with the constant presence of an armed police protection team. He was asked to choose an alias that the police could call him by. He thought of writers he loved and combinations of their names; then it came to him: Conrad and Chekhov—Joseph Anton. How do a writer and his family live with the threat of murder for more than nine years? How does he go on working? How does he fall in and out of love? How does despair shape his thoughts and actions, how and why does he stumble, how does he learn to fight back? In this remarkable memoir Rushdie tells that story for the first time; the story of one of the crucial battles, in our time, for freedom of speech. He talks about the sometimes grim, sometimes comic realities of living with armed policemen, and of the close bonds he formed with his protectors; of his struggle for support and understanding from governments, intelligence chiefs, publishers, journalists, and fellow writers; and of how he regained his freedom.

Languages of Truth : Essays 2003-2020

Here Rushdie brings together insightful and inspiring essays, criticism, and speeches that focus on his relationship with the written word, and solidify his place as one of the most original thinkers of our time.   Immersing the reader in a wide variety of subjects, he delves into the nature of storytelling as a deeply human need, and what emerges is, in myriad ways, a love letter to literature itself. Rushdie explores what the work of authors from Shakespeare and Cervantes to Samuel Beckett, Eudora Welty, and Toni Morrison mean to him, often by telling vivid, sometimes humorous stories of his own personal encounters with them, whether on the page or in person. 

Fiction

East, West : Stories

The storied Rushdie provides nine stories, in groups of three, under the categories of “East,” “West,” and “East, West.”  The Eastern ones have a Thousand and One Nights flavor and are set in Rushdie’s native Pakistan. Rushdie’s Western stories incorporate elements of magic realism and feature European settings. The stories in the “East/West” section bring the two worlds together, and the outstanding one of that beautiful trio is “The Harmony of the Spheres,” about a deeply felt but tragically ended friendship between an Englishman and a Pakistani. Rushdie’s brilliant style reinforces his stories’ marvelous combination of dignity and poignancy.

The Enchantress of Florence

This complex novel centers on 16th-century Mughal emperor Akbar the Great and a mysterious European traveler who arrives in his court with an extraordinary story to tell. The action centers on the peregrinations of “Lady Black Eyes” Qara Koz, an alluring but unfeeling Mughal princess bandied as diplomatic luggage between sultans, mercenaries and silver-tongued courtiers, and at one point slyly ravished by Machiavelli himself. Rushdie summons all his powers as a fabulist for a new take on Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso , which also dealt with the havoc caused by a fickle Indian princess; and there are echoes of the Arabian Nights as the narrator relies on storytelling skills to avoid losing his head.

Fury : A Novel

 Fifty-five-year-old professor Malik Solanka has left his wife and young son in England and taken refuge in New York, which glows with the energy of people making and spending money–“mere rats need not bother to enter this high-intensity competition.” Solanka is running from his own inexplicable anger: a fury that “shocks him whenever it courses through his nervous system.” The novel, then, is about Solanka’s conquest of his fury, and his path toward that goal becomes, for the reader, at once a fantastic, humorous, and gravely serious tale about the torments of love but, even more than that, the abrasions on the soul inflicted by today’s cell-phone society.

The Golden House : A Novel

Must one’s past always inform the present? Can a man avoid karma? Is the United States still a haven for reinventing oneself? Rushdie poses these and other conundrums in a novel grounded in historical fact yet rife with Rushdie’s signature imaginative prowess.  The Gardens, a cloistered neighborhood in New York’s Greenwich Village, represents a microcosm of our world as it appeared after the 2008 financial meltdown. Narrator Rene is a struggling filmmaker in search of a subject. When the inscrutable Nero Golden and his three sons arrive from Mumbai to take up residence in their palatial home fronting the Gardens, they appear pleased to oblige. Rene insinuates himself into the lives of agoraphobic Petya, artist Apu, and Dionysus, the gender-fluid youngest of the brothers. Over an eight- year span, Rene follows and films the enigmatic Goldens as they struggle to attain the American dream, eventually compromising his objectivity through a risky sexual liaison

Grimus : A Novel

The hero of this intricately plotted first novel is Flapping Eagle, an outcast Indian weary of the immortality conferred on him some 700 years ago by a mysterious elixir. There is, he is told, one haven where he can shed the burden of changelessness: Calf Island. But once there, he finds that the denizens of the islands–also recruits to immortality–have retreated into frozen and change-denying obsession in an attempt to stave off the disintegrating influence of the “”Grimus Effect”” emanating from the cloudy summit of Calf Mountain, home of the island’s maker. 

The Ground Beneath Her Feet : A Novel

The romance of two Indian musicians who form a band. He is Ormus, a composer, she is Vina, an American-raised singer, and their romance plays out across continents, parallel universes and different lives– she dying and returning for a second life.

Luka and the Fire of Life

“You’ve reached the age at which people in this family cross the border into the magical world. It’s your turn for an adventure—yes, it’s finally here!” So says Haroun to his younger brother, twelve-year-old Luka. The adventure begins one beautiful starry night in the land of Alifbay, when Luka’s father, Rashid, falls suddenly into a sleep so deep that nothing and no one can rouse him. To save him from slipping away entirely, Luka embarks on a journey through the world of magic with his loyal companions, Bear, the dog, and Dog, the bear. Together they encounter a slew of fantastical creatures, strange allies, and challenging obstacles along the way—all in the hope of stealing the Fire of Life, a seemingly impossible and exceedingly treacherous task.

Filled with mischievous wordplay and delving into themes as universal as the power of filial love and the meaning of mortality, this is a book of wonders for all ages.

Midnight’s Children

A classic and allegorical novel, in which the man who calls himself the “bomb of Bombay” chronicles the story of a child and a nation that both came into existence in 1947–and examines a whole people’s capacity for carrying inherited myths and inventing new ones. It is a historical chronicle of modern India centring on the inextricably linked fates of two children who were born within the first hour of independence from Great Britain.

Quichotte : A Novel

An exuberantly imagined and lacerating homage to the revered satire, Don Quixote. As Cervantes did four centuries ago, Rushdie attributes his tragicomic tale of a delusional romantic to another author, a midlist, Indian American crime writer using the pen name Sam Duchamp, who believes that his spy novels have put him in actual danger. While he tries to sort out his escalating travails, he finds himself writing a strange story about a chivalric, retired traveling pharmaceutical salesman utterly bewitched and befuddled by his marathon television immersions. No longer able to distinguish between truth and lies, reality and TV, he embarks on a cross-country quest to woo his beloved, Salma, a superstar talk-show host.

The Satanic Verses

When a terrorist’s bomb destroys a jumbo jet high above the English Channel, two passengers fall safely to earth: Gibreel, an Indian movie actor, and Saladin, star of the controversial British television program, The Alien Show . The near-death experience changes them into living symbols of good and evilSaladin grows horns, Gibreel a halo. From this fantastic premise Rushdie spins a huge collection of loosely related subplots that combine mythology, folklore, and TV trivia in a tour de force of magic realism that investigates the postmodern immigrant experience. This controversial novel, banned in several countries for its alleged blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, is a surreal hallucinatory feast.

Shalimar the Clown

Vintage Rushdie, in a sprawling story ripped from today’s—and, undoubtedly, tomorrow’s—headlines. A presumably political assassination that’s in fact deeply “personal,” the separate histories of the disputed territories of Strasbourg and Kashmir, and the classical Indian epic Ramayana are all ingeniously conflated and reimagined in Rushdie’s dazzling ninth novel.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

Rushdie here contrasts the workings of a world that functions as in religious texts and worlds that function according to physics, logic, and reason. Djinn returns to the modern world and unleashes wild disruption upon humanity: wild storms, curses, monsters. Dunia, a female djinn who fell in love with a mortal man centuries ago, returns to the world to gather her descendants and undo the dark djinn’s workings. The tale also follows several of these descendants, including a gardener who floats above the ground, a baby who corrupts the skin of the corrupted, and a murderess who shoots lightning from her hands. Rushdie plays with self-insertion, narration from a future beyond our present, and literary references to pursue both his point and lend humor to the piece.

-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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