Salman Rushdie on The Satanic Verses at 25: "There Are No Pictures of Me in Hiding in My Memoir Because I Looked Like Sh*t"
Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses being published in England. Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death sentence on Rushdie as punishment for the supposed blasmphemy in the novel, leading Rushdie and his family going into hiding for nearly a decade, constantly accompanied by an armed security detail. Rushdie's memoir of this period, Joseph Anton is newly out in paperback and the author was interviewed on stage last night at Miami-Dade College by Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan.
Fans wait for signatures and Rushdie's healing touch last night at Miami Dade College
Before being introduced, the two were just a couple of guys with tidy facial hair, eschewing neckties from the side of the stage. They shared private jokes and rocked on their heels, waiting for the event to begin, betraying little of how their lives had been changed by a novel that was now a quarter century distant from its first edition. Literary placket watchers may have noted that Kaplan had his top two shirt buttons undone but the older writer only allowed himself one.
"In the late 1980s, as you all remember," Kaplan said, taking the rostrum in advance of Rushdie, "The Satanic Verses was under a huge attack all over the world. Part of being a bookseller was that we had to stand up for what was right and not be intimidated by those who tried to silence authors. So we proudly put it in our windows. And we did get some threats."
The man who bore the brunt of those threats, however, stood expressionless next to a potted plant, one hand clasped patiently over the other wrist. Over the 30 years of the Miami Book Fair International, which Kaplan co-founded, Rushdie has been a frequent guest. Hence being brought back in a series of lead up events celebrating the Fair's history.
When Kaplan finally called Rushdie to the pair of armchairs and microphones awaiting them, Rushdie wiped at his goatee like an actor applying one last dab of makeup and bounded up the stairs with a smile for the crowd and a hug for Kaplan.
Kaplan began his questioning by asking about Rushdie's father, a man whose legacy hangs over much of the memoir and Rushdie's fiction.
"Anyone who reads my books can see they are full of sons who have difficult relationships with their fathers," Rushdie said. "Yeah, I was pleased to get away from him for a while but we became very close towards the end of his life."
When Midnight's Children came out, Rushdie's father was unhappy "because he thought the father was unflattering. But I said that if I really wanted to be unflattering, I wouldn't have left out all the things I did."
This didn't exactly ease tensions between father and son, but when friends started congratulating his father on the book's success, "he had to shut up."
Rushdie's father died about a year before the publication of The Satanic Verses. Just after Kaplan asked him what he thought his father's reaction to the book would have been, an embarrassed Nepalese gentleman's telephone rang in the row in front of Cultist.
"Let's ask him!" Rushdie cried, although the Nepalese man opted to send the spirit of Rushdie's father to voicemail instead. The burden was then on Rushdie to suppose from this plane of existence.
"He never wanted me to be a writer because he didn't think of it as a real job," he said. "Which is right. If my son wanted to be a writer, I would encourage him to get his head examined.
"He fortunately lived long enough to see it wasn't such a stupid idea. One thing I inherited from him was a complete lack of religious belief, which was a great gift to me," Rushdie said. He also got from his father a "complete fascination" with religion and so, "had he been alive, [The Satanic Verses] would have been my father's favorite book because it spoke to his concerns."