Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie books and biography


Salman Rushdie

Born: 19 June 1947 (1947-06-19) (age 60)
Bombay, Bombay Presidency, India
Occupation: Novelist, essayist
Nationality: Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
Genres: Magic Realism
Subjects: Criticism, travel
Debut works:
Novel: Grimus (1975)
Influences: Gunter Grass, Gabriel García Márquez, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie (Devanagari : अख़्मद सल्मान रश्दी Nastaliq:سلمان رشدی; born 19 June 1947) is a British-Indian novelist and essayist. He first achieved fame with his second novel, Midnight's Children (1981), which won the Booker Prize. Much of his early fiction is set at least partly on the Indian subcontinent. His style is often classified as magical realism, while a dominant theme of his work is the long, rich and often fraught story of the many connections, disruptions and migrations between the East and the West.

His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), provoked [1], which "thrilled and humbled" him.[2] The announcement met with disapproval from some Muslim nations and communities,[3] with some claiming that it "may spark terrorism".[4] In 2007, he began a five-year term as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University.[5]


Personal life

The only son of Anis Ahmed Rushdie, a Cambridge University-educated lawyer turned businessman, and Negin Butt, a teacher, Rushdie was born into a Muslim family in Mumbai (then called Bombay), India. He was educated at Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai, Rugby School and King's College, Cambridge, where he read history. He worked for two advertising agencies (Ogilvy & Mather and Ayer Barker) before becoming a full-time writer.

Rushdie has been married four times. His first wife was Clarissa Luard, to whom he was married from 1976 to 1987 and with whom he has a son, Zafar Rushdie. His second wife was the American novelist Marianne Wiggins; they were married in 1988 and divorced in 1993. His third wife, from 1997 to 2004, was Elizabeth West; they have a son, Milan Rushdie. Since 2004, he has been married to the Indian actress and model Padma Lakshmi, the host of the American reality-television show Top Chef. On July 2, 2007, it was announced that Rushdie and his wife would divorce, with Rushdie indicating that it was her desire to end the marriage.

In 1999, Rushdie had an operation to correct a tendon condition that was making it increasingly difficult for him to open his eyes. "If I hadn't had an operation, in a couple of years from now I wouldn't have been able to open my eyes at all," he said.[6]


Major literary work

Salman Rushdie presenting his book Shalimar the Clown
Salman Rushdie presenting his book Shalimar the Clown

His first novel, Grimus (1975), a part-science fiction tale, was generally ignored by the book-buying public and literary critics. His next novel, Midnight's Children (1981), however, catapulted him to literary fame. It also significantly shaped the course that Indian writing in English would follow over the next decade. This work won the 1981 Booker Prize and, in 1993, was awarded the Booker of Bookers as the best novel to have received the prize during its first 25 years.[7] It still receives accolades for being Rushdie's best, most flowing and inspiring work.

After the success of Midnight's Children, about the birth of the modern nation of India, Rushdie wrote Shame (1983), in which he depicts the political turmoil in Pakistan, basing his characters on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Shame won France's Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book) and was a close runner-up for the Booker Prize. Both these works of postcolonial literature are characterised by a style of magic realism and the immigrant outlook of which Rushdie is very conscious, as a member of the Indian diaspora.

In his later works, Rushdie turned towards the Western world. In the 1980s, he visited Nicaragua, the scene of Sandinista political experiments, and this experience was the basis for his next book, The Jaguar Smile (1987). He followed this with The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), exploring commercial and cultural links between India and the Iberian peninsula. The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) presents an alternative history of modern rock music, and Rushdie co-wrote a song of the same name with Bono.

Many of Rushdie's post-1989 works have been critically acclaimed and commercially successful. His 2005 novel Shalimar the Clown received, in India, the prestigious Crossword Fiction Award, and was, in Britain, a finalist for the Whitbread Book Awards. It is shortlisted for the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.[8]

In his 2002 nonfiction collection Step Across the Line, he professes his admiration for the Italian writer Italo Calvino and the American writer Thomas Pynchon, amongst others. His early influences included James Joyce, Günter Grass, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Lewis Carroll.

Other activities

Rushdie has mentored—though quietly—younger Indian (and ethnic-Indian) writers, influenced an entire generation of Indo-Anglian writers, and is an influential writer in postcolonial literature in general.[9] He has received many plaudits for his writings, including the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature, the Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy), and the Writer of the Year Award in Germany. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. Rushdie was the President of PEN American Center from 2004 to 2006.

He opposes the British government's introduction of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, something he writes about in his contribution to Free Expression Is No Offence, a collection of essays published by Penguin in November 2005. Avowedly secular, Rushdie is a self-described atheist. He is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association. On April 21, 2007, Rushdie presented a literary reading of his latest work to the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy 30th birthday in Boston. Asked later by Michel Virard since when he had been a humanist, Rushdie replied that he had been one for long time without knowing the word for it, and that he had discovered the word only recently.[citation needed]

On October 6, 2006, it was announced that Rushdie would be joining the Emory University faculty as Distinguished Writer in Residence for one month a year for the next five years.[10] He is currently working on a book set in the Mughal Empire and Renaissance Italy. Though he enjoys writing, Salman Rushdie says that he would have become an artist if his writing career was not successful. Even from early childhood, he drew pictures and sculpted long before he took an interest in writing.

Rushdie also engages in more popular forms of public discourse. For example, he gave a cameo appearance in the film Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) based on the book of the same name, which is itself full of literary in-jokes. On May 12, 2006, Rushdie was a guest host on The Charlie Rose Show, where he interviewed controversial Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, whose work has also faced violent protests from religious traditionalists, about her 2005 film, Water.

The Satanic Verses and the fatwa

The Satanic Verses (1988), 2006 Vintage paperback edition
The Satanic Verses (1988), 2006 Vintage paperback edition
Further information: The Satanic Verses controversy

The publication of The Satanic Verses in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world because of what was perceived as an irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad. The title refers to a Muslim tradition that is related in the book. According to it, Muhammad (Mahound in the book) added verses (sura) to the Qur'an accepting three goddesses that used to be worshipped in Mecca as divine beings. According to the legend, Muhammad later revoked the verses, saying the devil tempted him to utter these lines to appease the Meccans (hence the "Satanic" verses). However, the narrator reveals to the reader that these disputed verses were actually from the mouth of the Archangel Gibreel. The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim communities.

On 14 February 1989, a fatwa requiring Rushdie's execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time, calling the book "blasphemous against Islam." A bounty was offered for the death of Rushdie, who was thus forced to live under police protection for years to come. On 7 March 1989, the United Kingdom and Iran broke diplomatic relations over the Rushdie controversy.

The publication of the book and the fatwa sparked violence around the world, with bookstores being firebombed. Muslim communities in several nations in the West held public rallies in which copies of the book were burned. Several people associated with translating or publishing the book were attacked, seriously injured, and even killed.[11] Many more people died in riots in Third World countries.

On 24 September 1998, as a precondition to the restoration of diplomatic relations with Britain, the Iranian government, then headed by moderate Mohammad Khatami, gave a public commitment that it would "neither support nor hinder assassination operations on Rushdie."[12][13] Hardliners in Iran have, however, continued to reaffirm the death sentence.[14] In early 2005, Khomeini's fatwa was reaffirmed by Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.[15] Additionally, the Revolutionary Guards have declared that the death sentence on him is still valid.[16] Iran has rejected requests to withdraw the fatwa on the basis that only the person who issued it may withdraw it[15], and the person who issued it is dead.

Salman Rushdie reported that he still receives a "sort of Valentine's card" from Iran each year on February 14 letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him. He was also quoted saying, "It's reached the point where it's a piece of rhetoric rather than a real threat."[17] Despite the threats on Rushdie, he has publicly said that his family has never been threatened and that his mother (who lived in Pakistan during the later years of her life) even received outpourings of support.[18]

Hezbollah's failed assassination attempt

A 1989 explosion in Britain is believed to have been a Hezbollah "attempt to assassinate British novelist Salman Rushdie [which] failed when a bomb exploded prematurely, killing a terrorist in London."[19] There is a shrine in Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery for Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh that says he was "Martyred in London, August 3, 1989. The first martyr to die on a mission to kill Salman Rushdie." Mazeh died priming a book bomb loaded with RDX explosives that took out two floors of a hotel in Paddington, Central London. A previously unknown Lebanese group, the Organisation of the Mujahidin of Islam, said he died preparing an attack "on the apostate Rushdie". Mezeh's mother was invited to relocate to Iran, and the Islamic World Movement of Martyrs' Commemoration built his shrine in the cemetery that holds thousands of Iranian soldiers slain in the Iran-Iraq War.[12] During the 2006 Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that "If there had been a Muslim to carry out Imam Khomeini's fatwa against the renegade Salman Rushdie, this rabble who insult our Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, Norway and France would not have dared to do so. I am sure there are millions of Muslims who are ready to give their lives to defend our prophet's honour and we have to be ready to do anything for that."[20]

International Guerillas

In 1990, a Pakistani film was released in which Rushdie, played by Afzaal Ahmad, was depicted as plotting, soon after his publication of The Satanic Verses, to cause the downfall of "Pakistan, the stronghold of Islam" by opening a chain of casinos and discos in the country. The hero of the story, played by Mustafa Qureshi, learns of the plot and decides to quit his day job as a police officer to recruit his unemployed brothers and create a mujahid (God's soldiers) group to pursue Rushdie and slay him before the plot can go into effect.[21][22] The film was popular with Pakistani audiences, and it "presents Rushdie as a Rambo-like figure pursued by four Pakistani guerillas"[23] and surrounded by the Israeli armed forces.[24] Rushdie is portrayed as "a smug, bespectacled butcher in a double-breasted suit, who lives in palatial splendor, [and who] personally slaughters his enemies with a huge blood-soaked sword".[25] In the end, as the trio of brothers and their mother are being crucified by Rushdie, Allah frees them with bolts of lightning and "Rushdie is attacked by a quartet of floating holy books (the Koran, Tawrat, Zabur, and Injil), which shoot laser beams into his skull until he bursts into flame"[25], "a scene that evoked shouts of approval from [Pakistani] audiences."[23] The British Board of Film Classification refused to allow it a certificate, as "it was felt that the portrayal of Rushdie might qualify as criminal libel, causing a breach of the peace as opposed to merely tarnishing his reputation."[24] This move effectively banned the film in Britain outright. However, two months later, Rushdie himself wrote to the board, saying that while he thought the film "a distorted, incompetent piece of trash", he would not sue if it was released.[24] He later said, "If that film had been banned, it would have become the hottest video in town: everyone would have seen it".[24] While the film was a massive hit in Pakistan, it went virtually unnoticed in the UK.[24]


Main article: Knighthood of Salman Rushdie

Rushdie was awarded a knighthood for services to literature in the Queen's Birthday Honours on June 16, 2007. He remarked, "I am thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour, and am very grateful that my work has been recognised in this way."[26] In response to his knighthood, many nations with Muslim majorities protested. Parliamentarians of several of these countries condemned the action, and Iran and Pakistan called in their British envoys to protest formally. Mass demonstrations against the honour took place in Pakistan and Malaysia. Calls for his death were issued by several groups outraged by the honour.

According to a recent report by the BBC, Al-Qaeda have also condemned the Rushdie honour. The Al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri is quoted as saying in an audio recording that Britain's award for Indian-born Salman was "an insult to Islam", and it was planning "a very precise response."[27]

Religious and political beliefs

Rushdie was raised a Muslim but is reviled as an apostate in Muslim countries, especially Pakistan. His books often focus on the role of religion in society and conflicts between faiths and between the religious and those of no faith.

Rushdie advocates the application of higher criticism, pioneered during the late 19th century. Rushdie calls for a reform in Islam [1] in a guest opinion piece printed in The Washington Times and The Times in mid-August 2005. Excerpts from his speech:

What is needed is a move beyond tradition, nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadist ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows to let in much-needed fresh air. (...) It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it. (...) Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace.

Rushdie supported the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, leading the leftist Tariq Ali to label Rushdie and other "warrior writers" as "the belligerati'".[28]

In 2006, Rushdie stated that he supported comments by the Leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw, criticising the wearing of the niqab (a veil that covers all of the face except the eyes). Rushdie stated that his three sisters would never wear the veil. He said, "I think the battle against the veil has been a long and continuing battle against the limitation of women, so in that sense I'm completely on [Straw's] side."[29]


  • Grimus (1975)
  • Midnight's Children (1981)
  • Shame (1983)
  • The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987)
  • The Satanic Verses (1988)
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990)
  • Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981 - 1991 (1992)
  • Homeless by Choice (1992, with R. Jhabvala and V. S. Naipaul)
  • East, West (1994)
  • The Moor's Last Sigh (1995)
  • The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
  • Fury (2001)
  • Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992 - 2002 (2002)
  • Shalimar the Clown (2005)


  • Aristeion Prize (European Union)
  • Arts Council Writers' Award
  • Author of the Year (British Book Awards)
  • Author of the Year (Germany)
  • Booker of Bookers or the best novel among the Booker Prize winners for Fiction
  • Booker Prize for Fiction
  • English-Speaking Union Award
  • Hutch Crossword Fiction Prize (India)
  • India Abroad Lifetime Achievement Award (USA)
  • James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Fiction)
  • Kurt Tucholsky Prize (Sweden)
  • Mantua Prize (Italy)
  • Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Humanism (Harvard University)
  • Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy)
  • Prix Colette (Switzerland)
  • Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger
  • State Prize for Literature (Austria)
  • Whitbread Novel Award (twice)
  • Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for Children's Fiction

See also

  • A critique of The Satanic Verses, by Ata'ollah Mohajerani, former Iranian Minister of Culture
  • Norwegian author Axel Jensen and his collection of essays, God Does Not Read Novels: A Voyage in the World of Salman Rushdie (1994), in defence of free speech
  • Censorship in South Asia
  • International PEN
  • MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism—an open letter he co-signed regarding the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy
  • Blitcon, British literary conservatives


  1. ^ The UK Honours System - Queen's birthday list 2007. Ceremonial Secretariat, Cabinet Office (2007). Retrieved on 2007-06-28.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Salman Rushdie to Teach and Place His Archive at Emory University. Emory University. Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  6. ^ "Rushdie: New book out from under shadow of fatwa", CNN, April 15, 1999. Retrieved on April 21, 2007.
  7. ^ Previous winners - 1981. The Booker Prize Foundation (2007). Retrieved on 2007-04-05.
  8. ^ The 2007 Shortlist. Dublin City Public Libraries/International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (2007). Retrieved on 2007-04-05.
  9. ^ Rushdie's postcolonial influence
  10. ^ Salman Rushdie to Teach and Place His Archive at Emory University. Emory University Office of Media Relations. Retrieved on 2006-12-06.
  11. ^ See Hitoshi Igarashi, Ettore Capriolo, William Nygaard
  12. ^ a b Anthony Loyd. "Tomb of the unknown assassin reveals mission to kill Rushdie", The Times, June 8, 2005. 
  13. ^ 26 December 1990: Iranian leader upholds Rushdie fatwa. BBC News: On This Day. Retrieved on 2006-10-10.
  14. ^ Rubin, Michael (1 September 2006). Can Iran Be Trusted?. The Middle East Forum: Promoting American Interests. Retrieved on 2006-10-10.
  15. ^ a b Webster, Philip, Ben Hoyle and Ramita Navai (January 20, 2005). Ayatollah revives the death fatwa on Salman Rushdie. The Times. Retrieved on 2006-10-10.
  16. ^ Iran adamant over Rushdie fatwa. BBC News (12 February 2005). Retrieved on 2006-10-10.
  17. ^ Rushdie's term. Retrieved on 2007-02-15.
  18. ^ Cronenberg meets Rushdie.
  19. ^ James Phillips (20 June 2007). Hezbollah’s Terrorist Threat to the European Union - Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe.
  20. ^ "Hezbollah: Rushdie death would stop Prophet insults", AFP, Feb. 2, 2006. 
  21. ^ Sujit R. Varma. Imdb - Plot summary for International Gorillay (1990).
  22. ^ Imdb - International Gorillay (1990).
  23. ^ a b Joseph Bernard Tamney (2002). The Resilience of Conservative Religion: The Case of Popular, Conservative Protestant Congregations. Cambridge, UK: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. 
  24. ^ a b c d e International Guerrillas and Criminal Libel.
  25. ^ a b INTERNATIONAL GUERRILLAS [International Gorillay (1990)].
  26. ^ June 15th 2007 Rushdie knighted in honours list. BBC News. Retrieved on 2007-06-16.
  27. ^ July 10th 2007 Al-Qaeda condemns Rushdie honour. BBC News. Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  28. ^ Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder, Pluto Press, 2004, p60
  29. ^ Wagner, Thomas (10 October 2006). Blair, Rushdie support former British foreign secretary who ignited veil debate. Retrieved on 2006-10-10.

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