Salman Rushdie 1947-
(Full name Ahmed Salman Rushdie) Indian-born English novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, editor, children's writer, playwright, and travel writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Rushdie's career through 2004. See also Salman Rushdie Criticism (Volume 23), Salman Rushdie Criticism (Volume 31), and The Moor's Last Sigh Criticism.
Rushdie, a controversial and prominent author, has explored such themes as exile, cultural dislocation, and metamorphosis through his writing. Best known for The Satanic Verses (1988), he has continued to write criticism, essays, reviews, and novels that stress the importance of free speech and religious tolerance. Through a blend of magic realism and commentary on contemporary issues, Rushdie has secured a place among the most provocative of modern writers.
Born on June 19, 1947, into a middle-class Muslim family in Bombay, Rushdie attended the Cathedral Boys' High School. His education continued in England at the Rugby School, and later at King's College, Cambridge. After earning an M.A. with honors in 1968, he acted for one year at an experimental theater, and then worked as a freelance advertising copywriter during the 1970s. His first novel, Grimus, was published in 1975, and was followed by Midnight’s Children (1981). The latter received wide critical praise and earned Rushdie the Booker McConnell Prize. Rushdie gained international notoriety in 1988 with the publication of The Satanic Verses. Devout Muslims, outraged by a perceived belittling of Islam within the novel, staged public demonstrations and placed bans on its importation. Eventually, a fatwa, or decree, was issued by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruholiah Khomeini, calling for the execution of Rushdie. It was not until a public pardon of sorts by the Iranian government in 1995 that Rushdie felt he could safely emerge from hiding. Despite lingering death-threats, the author returned to the public stage with a determination to use his work as a platform for the exposure and denouncement of institutional violence and intolerance. Rushdie's Midnight’s Children was named the best novel to win the Booker Prize during the award's first quarter century. The Satanic Verses and The Moor's Last Sigh (1995) both received the Whitbread Prize, and were also short-listed for the Booker Prize. In 2003, Midnight's Children was voted by the British public as one of the nation’s 100 best-loved novels.
Grimus was first noticed primarily by science-fiction enthusiasts due to the fantastic nature of the story, in which a young Native American embarks upon a quest to ascertain the meaning of life after having become immortal. This journey through new dimensions portrays human contact with other universes and alien life, and an underlying fable employs social satire typical of Rushdie's work. This aspect of Rushdie's style has often prompted critics to compare him with authors of the magic realism school, such as Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez. Midnight's Children, also a fable, centers on the historical development of India. Rushdie's protagonist, Saleem Sinai, is switched at birth with another male child born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947. This is India's first hour of independence from Britain, and the trading of infants' saves Sinai from a life of poverty at the bottom of the country's caste system by landing him in the home of an upper-class Muslim couple. The story weaves events from Sinai's life throughout many of India's crucial historical moments, and he is finally pitted against Shiva, the child of midnight whose privilege he had claimed at birth. The novel was adapted to the stage by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2002. In Shame (1983), Rushdie used a similar method of mixing fantasy and history to examine abuses of power in a dream-like depiction of Pakistan. The concept of sharam (an Urdu word which encompasses both shame and entitlement) is explored throughout the wildly elaborate narrative. The Satanic Verses has been interpreted as commentary illustrating both the good and the evil inherent in religious devotion. When two Indian expatriates, Gibreel and Saladin, survive the explosion of their airplane over England, their perceptions of and experiences within the world below reflect the nature of their respective attitudes toward Islam. Gibreel sustains visions of the majestic rise of his religion, while Saladin sinks into the demonic realm of flesh and vice where society is devoid of justice. In 1990, Rushdie published a fairy tale for children titled Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Written after Rushdie had endured persecution under the Ayatollah's fatwa, the plot involves a thinly veiled claim for free speech and imagination. In 1991, Rushdie released Imaginary Homelands: The Collected Essays, including discussion of topics ranging from Indian history, social injustice, literary criticism, and the widely publicized threat against his life. Combining his preoccupation with cultural displacement and a fabulist narrative, Rushdie's critical work for the British Film Institute, The Wizard of Oz: BFI Film Classics (1992), has been considered as an ideal pairing of subject and author. In this book-length essay, Rushdie lavishes high praise on The Wizard of Oz for telling a universal story with a strong emphasis on the imagination. The Moor's Last Sigh again details the national character of India through a fantastic tale reminiscent of fable. In order to delay his execution, the Moor enchants his captor with the details of his family history, thereby exposing the destruction and wonder contained within the narrative's social context. Rushdie employed a more modern concept for The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999). Using two rock and roll stars as protagonists, Rushdie provides a new interpretation of the ancient myth of Orpheus. Although the story contains wild and fantastic elements similar to those used in previous works, the language of this novel is filled with references to contemporary popular culture. In Fury (2001), Rushdie delves into the themes of mass media and celebrity. Malik Solanka, an Indian philosopher, finds himself at the center of pop-culture hysteria after his invention of an intelligent doll called the “Little Brain.” Fame propels him into a mid-life crisis marked by fits of rage and adulterous affairs with younger women, and eventually lands him in a situation of mistaken identity concerning a serial killer. Step across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 (2002) contains essays written during Rushdie's years in hiding, as well as satirical pieces on the current American political climate.
While most of Rushdie's works have been generally admired for their fusion of myth, history, politics, and fantasy, some reviewers have derided his most recent novels as being pretentious and unfocused. Others have praised Rushdie’s exuberant narrative and his far-ranging thematic development of alienation, exile, political strife, and the dehumanizing effects of popular culture. His scathing indictment of American society has garnered a mixed critical reaction, and some commentators have traced the further development of this attitude in essays and fiction toward America after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Autobiographical elements have also been a recurring topic of critical discussion, and commentators have underscored the effect that the fatwa has had on Rushdie's literary imagination. Despite these trends toward critical disfavor, Rushdie's work continues to elicit widespread response and recognition.
Grimus (novel) 1975
Midnight's Children (novel) 1981
Shame (novel) 1983
The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (travel writing) 1987
The Satanic Verses (novel) 1988
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (juvenilia) 1990
Imaginary Homelands: The Collected Essays (essays and criticism) 1991
The Wizard of Oz (criticism) 1992
The Rushdie Letters: Freedom to Speak, Freedom to Write (letters) 1993
East, West (short stories) 1994
The Moor's Last Sigh (novel) 1995
Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing, 1947-1997 [editor; with Elizabeth West] (short stories and essays) 1997
The Ground beneath Her Feet (novel) 1999
Fury (novel) 2001
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children [adaptor; with Simon Reade and Tim Supple] (play) 2002
Step across This Line: Collected Nonfiction, 1992-2002 (essays and criticism) 2002
SOURCE: Harrison, James. “Reconstructing Midnight's Children and Shame.” University of Toronto Quarterly 59, no. 3 (spring 1990): 399-412.
[In the following essay, Harrison examines the structure, scope, and thematic unity of Midnight's Children and Shame.]
In Midnight's Children and Shame Salman Rushdie has presented the world with certainly the most talked about and probably the most incisive treatments in English fiction of the Indian subcontinent since A Passage to India. He has also presented the academic world with what seem almost textbook examples of all that postmodernist criticism tells us should be found in any...
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SOURCE: Merivale, Patricia. “Saleem Fathered by Oskar: Intertextual Strategies in Midnight's Children and The Tin Drum.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 21, no. 3 (July 1990): 7-21.
[In the following essay, Merivale investigates the influence of Günter Grass's The Tin Drum on Midnight's Children.]
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981) is characterized throughout by a “translation,” as flamboyant as it is skilful, of themes, topoi, events, characters, images, and above all rhetorical and metaphorical strategies from “western” fictions—of which Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of...
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SOURCE: Blishen, Edward. “A Pudding of Puns.” New Statesman and Society 3, no. 120 (28 September 1990): 32.
[In the following review, Blishen reads Haroun and the Sea of Stories as an allegory for Rushdie's life.]
It really isn't possible (I've tried) to read or judge this book [Haroun and the Sea of Stories] without regard—not in detail, but in general—to its author's plight. It is dedicated to his son, Zafar. The acrostic in which the dedication is cast ends with the lines: “As I wander far from view / Read, and bring me home to you.”
The exuberantly magical tale is of a professional storyteller, Rashid, known as the Shah...
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SOURCE: Taylor, D. J. “Exiles.” New Statesman and Society 4, no. 144 (29 March 1991): 32.
[In the following review, Taylor surveys the wide range of essays in Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981-1990.]
Nostalgia is a fatal reviewer's trick, but it must be ten years almost to the month since I first found out about Salman Rushdie, when the TLS printed a review of Midnight's Children. Later, in the autumn of 1981, I can remember sitting in a gloomy, panelled room in Oxford reading the account of Saleem Sinai's custody of the pickled eggs with a sort of astonished fascination, initial wariness quickly replaced by complete awe. At a distance...
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SOURCE: Lahr, John. “No Way Back to Kansas.” New Statesman and Society 5, no. 204 (29 May 1992): 39-40.
[In the following review, Lahr regards The Wizard of Oz to be a “shrewd and joyous assessment of a film that has played such a large part in the imaginative landscape of America, and in [Rushdie's] own.”]
Anybody who hates Toto in The Wizard of Oz is my man. In his witty and vivacious appreciation of the film, [The Wizard of Oz,] Salman Rushdie gives the little terrier a severe dressing down. “Toto,” he writes with self-evident glee, “that little yapping hairpiece of a creature, that meddlesome rug!”
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SOURCE: Cook, Rufus. “Place and Displacement in Salman Rushdie's Work.” World Literature Today 68, no. 1 (winter 1994): 23-8.
[In the following essay, Cook considers the theme of cultural displacement in Rushdie's work, noting that “all of Rushdie's novels can be read as an acknowledgment that reality takes precedence over art, that ‘the unchanging twoness of things’ can never be reconciled to ‘the universe of what-happened-next.’”]
Salman Rushdie is not only an “almost textbook example” of a self-reflexive postmodern novelist;1 he is also—not coincidentally—one of the most persuasive spokesmen we have for the benefits, in increased...
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SOURCE: King, Bruce. Review of The Moor's Last Sigh, by Salman Rushdie. World Literature Today 70, no. 3 (summer 1996): 694-95.
[In the following review, King offers a mixed review of The Moor's Last Sigh, contending that Rushdie “always manages to write powerfully about the defining issues of our time.”]
At the conclusion of The Moor's Last Sigh Moraes Zogoiby flees an apocalyptic Bombay of gang wars, bombings, and communal violence and heads for Spain. There he is imprisoned by an enemy who forces him to write his personal and family history. The reader then turns back to the start of the novel, which continues the narrator's flight and...
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SOURCE: Kuortti, Joel. “‘Nomsense’: Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.” Textual Practice 13, no. 1 (1999): 137-46.
[In the following essay, Kuortti underscores the significance of language—particularly the power of naming—in The Satanic Verses.]
Jean-François Lyotard, in establishing clear distinctions between different genres and discourses, argues that the rules of language games within the distinct and different areas of discourse are modifiable, although ‘even before he is born, if only by virtue of the name he is given, the human child is already positioned as the referent in the story recounted by those around him’...
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SOURCE: Mishra, Pankaj. “The Emperor's New Clothes.” New Statesman and Society 128, no. 4431 (9 April 1999): 42-5.
[In the following negative review, Mishra asserts that “with its banal obsessions and empty bombast, its pseudo-characters and non-events, its fundamental shapelessness and incoherence, The Ground beneath Her Feet does little more than echo the white noise of the modern world.”]
Early in Salman Rushdie's new novel, [The Ground beneath Her Feet,] the narrator, a photographer called Umeed Merchant, confesses to having once believed the “world to be unworthy of me”. It makes you pause. By then you have already been run a bit ragged...
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SOURCE: Caute, David. “Going Unsuccessfully West.” Spectator 282, no. 8905 (10 April 1999): 37-8.
[In the following review, Caute faults The Ground beneath Her Feet for its uneven and “boring” narrative.]
East-West is of course a central theme in Rushdie's work—alongside literary hit contracts for regicide and deicide—and this time [in The Ground beneath Her Feet] his trajectory runs from upper-crust Bombay in the 1950s to rock'n'roll in the heyday of the Western counter-culture. At the centre of the epic narrative is a passionate love affair between two superstars of the rock music scene, Ormus Cama and Vina Aspara, characters whose virtually...
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SOURCE: Allen, Brooke. “Mister Multiplicity.” New Leader 82, no. 6 (17 May 1999): 16-17.
[In the following essay, Allen notes the excess of showy technique, clever references, and mythological allusions in The Ground beneath Her Feet and contends that the novel lacks depth.]
The story of the lyre-player Orpheus and his beloved Eurydice, whose death lured him to the underworld in an attempt to recover her, has retained surprising power through the millennia. Now Salman Rushdie has fashioned a contemporary rock version of the tale in his newest novel, The Ground beneath Her Feet. Rushdie's Orpheus is Ormus Cama, a supernaturally gifted musician and...
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SOURCE: McLaughlin, Robert L. Review of The Ground beneath Her Feet, by Salman Rushdie. Review of Contemporary Fiction 19, no. 3 (fall 1999): 173.
[In the following review, McLaughlin offers a favorable assessment of The Ground beneath Her Feet.]
Rushdie's funny and rich new novel [The Ground beneath Her Feet] uses the history of a fictional rock band—from difficult beginnings to superstardom through the inevitable legal problems and breakup to a nineties reunion tour—to look at the stories of our time and to examine the role of art in expressing who we are and how we understand our world. Ormus Cama, musician and songwriter, and Vina Apsara, singer...
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SOURCE: Sawhney, Simona. “Satanic Choices: Poetry and Prophecy in Rushdie's Novel.” Twentieth-Century Literature 45, no. 3 (fall 1999): 253-77.
[In the following essay, Sawhney applies Georg Lukacs's and Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the novel to The Satanic Verses and discusses Rushdie's book as a hybrid of the novel genre.]
That such an episode could actually have been mentioned and treated by ancient Muslim authors whose authority is not doubted merely proves that at the heart of the foundation of Islam, what we have here called the textual question, that of divine-human “construction” … had already been settled satisfactorily for...
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SOURCE: Davies, Mark. “Aspects of the Grotesque in Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.” In Seriously Weird: Papers on the Grotesque, edited by Alice Mills, pp. 51-61. New York, N.Y.: Peter Lang, 1999.
[In the following essay, Davies identifies and discusses aspects of the grotesque in The Satanic Verses.]
One way of addressing the vexed problem of defining the grotesque would be to consider it, as J. P. Stern does the question of realism, in terms of Wittgenstein's notion of family resemblances.1 But as Freud observed of the supernatural in his essay on “The Uncanny”, the grotesque too affects us very differently in different social and aesthetic...
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SOURCE: Natarajan, Nalini. “Woman, Nation and Narration in Midnight's Children.” In Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader, edited by Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick, pp. 399-409. New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 1999.
[In the following essay, Natarajan perceives the function of women in Midnight's Children to be a signifier for the changing social status quo of India.]
In Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, the midnight of Indian independence is represented through refraction of the colors of the Indian flag onto national celebrations (extravagant ‘saffron rockets’ and ‘green sparkling rain’) and the bodies of women giving birth:...
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SOURCE: Heffernan, Teresa. “Apocalyptic Narratives: The Nation in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.” Twentieth-Century Literature 46, no. 4 (winter 2000): 470-91.
[In the following essay, Heffernan argues that, in Midnight's Children, Rushdie explores “an alternative, though equally apocalyptic, concept of the nation, the Islamic umma.”]
The radically performative laying down of the law by the legislator must create the very context according to which that law could be judged to be just: the founding moment, the pre-, is always already inhabited by the post-.
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SOURCE: King, Bruce. Review of The Ground beneath Her Feet, by Salman Rushdie. World Literature Today 74, no. 1 (winter 2000): 161.
[In the following review, King provides a mixed assessment of The Ground beneath Her Feet.]
The blurb proclaims The Ground beneath Her Feet as Salman Rushdie's “most ambitious and accomplished novel, sure to be hailed as his masterpiece.” Ambitious is correct. Rushdie's method is to place fabulous and improbable private lives on a large historical set as a metaphor for political and cultural events. Here the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is retold as two Indian lovers who become international rock stars symbolic of recent...
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SOURCE: Cook, Rufus. “The Art of Uncertainty: Cultural Displacement and the Devaluation of the World.” Critique 41, no. 3 (spring 2000): 227-35.
[In the following essay, Cook finds Rushdie's central contribution to contemporary literature to be his exploration of cultural change and transformation.]
In a “century of wandering” such as ours, Salman Rushdie suggests, it is the migrant who can be most productively identified as “the central or defining figure” (Imaginary Homelands 277), whose experience of “uprooting, disjuncture, and metamorphosis” can provide the most useful metaphor for coping with the confusions and contradictions characteristic...
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SOURCE: Sawhney, Sabina, and Simona Sawhney. “Reading Rushdie after September 11, 2001.” Twentieth-Century Literature 47, no. 4 (winter 2001): 431-43.
[In the following essay, Sawhney and Sawhney investigate how Rushdie's political essays changed after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, and discuss the shifting critical reaction to his political viewpoints.]
The appearance of yet another collection of essays on Rushdie's work will no doubt seem odd to many people. Isn't there too much already written about Rushdie, for Rushdie, against Rushdie? Can't postcolonial critics talk about someone else for a change? Perhaps it is the very...
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SOURCE: Teverson, Andrew S. “Fairy Tale Politics: Free Speech and Multiculturalism in Haroun and the Sea of Stories.” Twentieth-Century Literature 47, no. 4 (winter 2001): 444-66.
[In the following essay, Teverson identifies Rushdie's two main objectives in Haroun and the Sea of Stories—“to reassert the value of storytelling after the fatwa, and to defend free speech against what he sees as the forces of silence and oppression.”]
Jacobites must speak in children's rhymes, As preachers do in Parables, sometimes.
Late in his life, either in the latter decades of the twelfth century or the first...
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SOURCE: Edric, Robert. “Kicking Him While He's Up.” Spectator 287, no. 9030 (1 September 2001): 39.
[In the following review, Edric maintains that “the real problem with Fury lies not so much with its absurd and near non-existent plot or with its failure to deliver, but with the writing itself.”]
Several weeks ago, a Guardian article asked disbelievingly why the readers among us remained in thrall to the heavyweight literary quartet of Amis, Barnes, McEwan and Rushdie. Disregarding the obvious—that all four writers are at least a decade past the genuinely ground-breaking and forward-looking work once produced by two or three of them—this...
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SOURCE: Siegel, Lee. “Wild in the Streets.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (2 September 2001): 3-4.
[In the following review, Siegel identifies Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as textual inspirations for Rushdie's Fury.]
Art critic Clement Greenberg once described someone as being “stupid as a painter.” Painters consider his remark high praise. For them, Greenberg meant to say that because artists' very viscera are lined with thought, they don't need to think their way to the truth. Artists' instincts do the driving; their minds catch up later. Interpretation comes later too, in the eye of the...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “A State of Wrath.” Christian Science Monitor (6 September 2001): 14, 17.
[In the following favorable review, Rubin asserts that Fury is “an acrid, sharp, self-critical portrait of an angry man in an anger-inducing world.”]
Salman Rushdie's latest novel [Fury] takes as its hero a 55-year-old man in flight from his inner demons. Prof. Malik Solanka has recently left his loving wife and delightful little boy to lose himself in the maelstrom of New York City. Although friends berate him for his desertion and his wife and child warmly implore him to return, Solanka may well have had good reason to leave: One night, much to his...
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SOURCE: Wood, James. “Escape to New York.” New Statesman 130, no. 4554 (10 September 2001): 49-51.
[In the following review, Wood finds Fury to be a pretentious, outdated apologia.]
Fury exhausts all negative superlatives. It is a novel that is indeed likely to make even its most charitable readers furious and that could hardly be worse if a secret committee bent on discrediting Salman Rushdie had concocted it. It is also, among other things, a flailing apologia, telling the story of an Indian professor, Malik “Solly” Solanka, who has recently left his English wife of 15 years, and their three-year-old son, and flown from London to Manhattan....
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SOURCE: Clark, Roger Y. “When Worlds Collide.” In Stranger Gods: Salman Rushdie's Other Worlds, pp. 18-29. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Clark explores Rushdie's extensive use of other worlds in his novels, commenting that “Rushdie's fiction can be especially disconcerting to those who believe (or want to believe) that the forces of the universe exist in a meaningful harmony.”]
If this world is not to our taste, well, at all events there is Heaven, Hell, Annihilation—one or other of those large things, that huge scenic background of stars, fires, blue or black air. All heroic endeavour, and all...
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SOURCE: Ben-Yishai, Ayelet. “The Dialectic of Shame: Representation in the Metanarrative of Salman Rushdie's Shame.” Modern Fiction Studies 48, no. 1 (spring 2002): 194-215.
[In the following essay, Ben-Yishai discusses the duality in Rushdie's metanarrative approach to his subject material in Shame.]
I had thought, before I began, that what I had on my hands was an almost excessively masculine tale, a saga of sexual rivalry, ambition, power, patronage, betrayal, death, revenge. But the women seem to have taken over; they marched in from the peripheries of the story to demand the inclusion of their own tragedies, histories and comedies,...
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SOURCE: Almond, Ian. “Mullahs, Mystics, Moderates, and Moghuls: The Many Islams of Salman Rushdie.” ELH 70, no. 4 (winter 2003): 1137-51.
[In the following essay, Almond examines Rushdie's portrayal of Islam throughout his body of work.]
One Kashmiri morning in the early spring of 1915, my grandfather Aadam Aziz hit his nose against a frost-hardened tussock of earth while attempting to pray. Three drops of blood plopped out of his left nostril, hardened instantly in the brittle air and lay before his eyes on the prayer mat, transformed into rubies. … At that moment … he resolved never again to kiss earth for any god or man.1...
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SOURCE: Rushdie, Salman, and Davia Nelson. “Salman Rushdie and the Sea of Stories.” American Theatre 20, no. 3 (March 2003): 26-40.
[In the following interview, Rushdie discusses the inspiration behind Haroun and the Sea of Stories, recent adaptations of his work, and his creative process.]
“Some artists are blessed with outrageous humor. Some artists are blessed with wonderful imagination. Some have extraordinary intelligence. Some have raw emotional power. And some seek in their work a kind of spiritual understanding of how the world works. It is extremely rare that those qualities are combined in one person.” So spoke Berkeley Repertory Theatre...
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SOURCE: Joshi, Ruchir. “Step Inside Rushdie.” Far Eastern Economic Review 166, no. 16 (24 April 2003): 54-5.
[In the following review, Joshi offers a mixed assessment of the essays collected in Step across This Line.]
Is it cruel for an author to have to carry on well after he or she has run out of stories to tell?
In his moving essay on Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie writes: “She hadn't finished. Like Italo Calvino, like Bruce Chatwin, like Raymond Carver, she died at the height of her powers. For writers, these are the cruellest deaths: in mid-sentence so to speak.” However, given the unmitigated disasters of Rushdie's last two novels, even...
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SOURCE: Shankar, Subramanian. “Midnight's Orphans, or a Postcolonialism Worth Its Name.” Cultural Critique 56 (winter 2004): 64-95.
[In the following essay, Shankar explores contemporary Indian literature, noting Rushdie's role as a postcolonial Indian author and utilizing Rushdie's commentary and critiques on postcolonial literature.]
In 1997, Salman Rushdie celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of India's independence from British rule by coediting The Vintage Book of Indian Writing, 1947-1997 with Elizabeth West. In the introduction to the anthology, Rushdie claimed that the most interesting literature of post-Independence India was in English.1...
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