Upon its publication, The Satanic Verses elicited the harshest of reviews, a death sentence, from Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose familiarity with the novel was apparently limited to secondhand reports of Gibreel’s “blasphemous” dreams. The fatwa, or decree, of death, which was issued on February 14, 1989, had less to do with Salman Rushdie and his novel than it did with the power struggle then going on in Iran between hard-liners such as Khomeini and moderates. The author and his book suffered greatly as a result. Rushdie was effectively made a hostage to a new form of international terrorism backed by the promise of financial and heavenly rewards for the assassin. He had to go into hiding. His novel, when not either burned or banned, was initially discussed almost exclusively with reference to the fatwa.
In its intricate and provocative exploration of postmodern and postcolonial sensibilities, The Satanic Verses celebrates and extends what one character calls “the eclectic, hybridized nature of the Indian artistic tradition.” Its multiplicity of styles and stories, its blurring of the boundaries separating reality from dream, fact from fiction, its “pitting levity against gravity,” and its allowing characters’ names to migrate, as it were, from one narrative to another, do more than confuse some readers and entertain others. Metaphorically, such techniques work much the same way as the novel’s...
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