It's been a good few days for learning about author Salman Rushdie, culminating in Monday's autobiographical long-read in The New Yorker, about the author's life as the target of an Iranian fatwa. Rushdie's on a media blitz to promote the film adaptation of his book Midnight's Children, which debuted at Telluride and is showing at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday, so a lot of his recent interviews read and sound like the one in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, in which he talked about secretively making the film on location in Sri Lanka, and dished lighthearted trivia about his role as narrator: "I’m pleased that I did it, except for when I sing. That is the bit that makes me want to hide under the sofa. I have no illusions about my singing voice." The Canadian film website Tribute.ca has video of a more in-depth conversation with Rushdie about the process of writing the screenplay, and how he sold the rights to Midnight's Children to director Deepa Mehta for $1. But of all the components of Rushdie's PR blitz, his New Yorker piece is the most compelling because it provides not only personal insight, but a look at what we can expect from his upcoming memoir, Joseph Anton. In third-person voice, Rushdie explains at length just how the fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini affected him, and how the Ayatollah misunderstood the Satanic Verses:
Soon enough, the language of literature would be drowned in the cacophony of other discourses—political, religious, sociological, postcolonial—and the subject of quality, of artistic intent, would come to seem almost frivolous. The book that he had written would vanish and be replaced by one that scarcely existed, in which Rushdie referred to the Prophet and his companions as “scums and bums” (he didn’t, though he did allow the characters who persecuted the followers of his fictional Prophet to use abusive language), and called the wives of the Prophet whores (he hadn’t—although whores in a brothel in his imaginary city, Jahilia, take on the names of the Prophet’s wives to arouse their clients, the wives themselves are clearly described as living chastely in the harem). This nonexistent novel was the one against which the rage of Islam would be directed, and after that few people wished to talk about the real book, except, usually, to concur with Hermione Lee’s negative assessment.
The whole thing is worth a read, over at The New Yorker.