Salman Rushdie Biography

Salman Rushdie Biography

For Salman Rushdie, being a writer has been far from a safe occupation. His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, was so controversial that he was forced to live in hiding for nearly ten years. The novel had been criticized as portraying the prophet Muhammad irreverently, and when it was deemed as blasphemous by Islamic leaders, a fatwa (or death warrant) was placed on the author. Though the fatwa has been revoked at this point, some extremists still insist they want Rushdie dead. Happily, though, there are many more people who are content to just read his work. He garnered international acclaim when Midnight’s Children was published in 1981. Since then, that book has won numerous accolades, including the “Booker of Bookers” as the best novel to ever receive the prestigious Booker Award.

Facts and Trivia

  • Salman Rushdie has been married four times, most recently to the host of the popular television show Top Chef, Padma Lakshmi, who divorced him in 2007.
  • Rushdie was awarded the British knighthood in 2007 for his services to literature.
  • He has openly criticized the wearing of the veil by Muslim women. “I think,” he has said, “the battle against the veil has been a long and continuing battle against the limitation of women.”
  • Ironically, his first novel, Grimus, was a sci-fi story that no one paid much attention to.
  • Rushdie had a tendon operation in 1999 to correct an eye problem. He claims that if he had not had it done, he would have been unable to open his eyes in later years.

The Novel’s Alleged Offenses

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The novel’s odd-numbered sections narrate the adventures of two popular Anglo-Indian actors, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, who (having survived the terrorist bombing of their airplane) attempt to resume normal life in modern London. The even- numbered sections concern an imaginary story about the Prophet Muhammad in the fictitious holy city of Jahilia and the apparently doomed mission of the prophetess Ayesha to lead Muslim Indian villagers on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The novel’s climax reveals a miraculous parting of the waters of the Arabian Sea and the subsequent apparent drowning of the pilgrims. However, it is possible that the entire sequence is part of a fantasy in one of the popular religious films (“theologicals”) that had made Gibreel an Indian film star.

It is possible that a few particularly vivid episodes in the novel inspired the fatwa against Rushdie. In the section titled “Mahound” (a profoundly offensive derisive name given to Muhammad in medieval English mystery plays), the devil—in the guise of the archangel Gibreel (or Gabriel), gives Muhammad the so-called “Satanic verses” in the Koran. (In anti- Islamic traditions, Muhammad inserted a contradictory passage in the Koran attesting the divinity of three local goddesses in order to secure a community’s conversion to Islam.) In another section, “Return to Jahilia,” the religious doubts of the scribe named Salman about Mahound and his wives leads the scribe to alter portions of the sacred text of the Koran. Perhaps equally offensive to Muslim readers, whores at a brothel called the Curtain each assume the identity of one of Muhammad’s wives, allowing their customers to act out blasphemous sexual fantasies. In the penultimate section of the novel, “The Parting of the Arabian Sea,” the pilgrims going to Mecca suffer from internal dissension and the hostility of a Hindu mob. When they wade in the waters and apparently drown, others claim to have seen the waters part miraculously.

Salman Rushdie Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

After early education at Bombay’s Cathedral School (1954 to 1961), Salman Rushdie was sent by his nominally Moslem but Anglophile parents to England for an even more British training: Rugby (1961 to 1964) and King’s College, Cambridge (1965 to 1968). After traveling to Pakistan, he was forced to return to England because his production of Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story (pr., pb. 1959) mentioned “pork,” thereby inciting Moslem protests. He tried acting, worked as an advertising copywriter, and composed the poorly received Grimus (1975). Not until his success with Midnight’s Children in 1981 could he earn a living from his fiction.

In 1988, his life changed radically with the publication of The Satanic Verses. Even though its references to Muhammad are part of a dream sequence, conservative Moslems were outraged. Protests against it included one in Islamabad, Pakistan, where five rioters were killed and more than one hundred injured. In Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (religious decree) condemning Rushdie and his publishers to death for blasphemy. Rushdie himself has had to live under police protection and in hiding. Casualties of the fatwa include the assassination of the Japanese translator and the serious injury of the Norwegian publisher. The fatwa may have contributed to the collapse of Rushdie’s year-long marriage (1988-1989) to the novelist Marianne Wiggins. Despite the threats, Rushdie continued to publish nonfiction, short stories, and novels. In 1998, the Iranian government declared that it would not continue to enforce the fatwa.

Salman Rushdie Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, on June 19, 1947, less than two months before the end of the British Raj. His father, Anis Ahmed Rushdie, and his mother, Negin Butt Rushdie, were Muslims with ties to the region that would become Pakistan. The family did not at first join the Muslim exodus to Pakistan that began after partition in September, 1947. Even so, they became increasingly aware of their minority status as Muslims in a predominantly Hindu state.

Although the Rushdies were nominally Muslim, they also identified with India and with Great Britain. Rushdie’s father had been educated in England, at Cambridge University, and had determined to rear his son and three daughters to appreciate their multicultural background. As a result, Rushdie had, from boyhood, access to a variety of works in his father’s library. It became a recurring argument between father and son, however, that the boy did not make adequate use of this wealth of books. His private reading during boyhood was generally limited to an English translation of the fifteenth century collection of stories known as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (or The Thousand and One Nights). His mother, considered “keeper of the family stories,” regaled young Rushdie and his sisters with a wealth of anecdotes on their family history; he remembered them all and would later adapt many of them in his writings.

Rushdie was sent to the Cathedral and John Connon School, a British-administered primary school with Anglican affiliation located in Bombay. As his sister Sameen has recalled, “He mopped up all the prizes,” was not very adapt at games, read extensively in both serious and popular literature, and loved both American B films and Hindu hit films. In 1961, at the age of thirteen, he was sent to the prestigious Rugby public school in England. At Rugby, however, although the masters were generally fair-minded, Rushdie felt alienated from his classmates, the “old boys” from British established families, who subjected him to cruel pranks. Rushdie compensated for the pranks and racial taunts by excelling at debates, appearing in theatrical productions, and thriving in academic areas, winning the Queen’s Medal for history and securing (but refusing) a scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford.

In 1964, the Rushdie family had emigrated to Karachi, Pakistan, and while Rushdie was not enthusiastic about returning to England, he had been offered a scholarship at his father’s university, King’s College, Cambridge, and amid the India-Pakistan war in 1965, his father literally pushed him onto an airplane bound for the United Kingdom. Rushdie’s attitude toward his father was often argumentative, and there was a serious rupture in their relationship when he entered Cambridge. Shortly before the elder Rushdie’s death in 1987, there was a rapprochement between the two men.

At Cambridge, Rushdie decided to read for a degree in history, and he eventually attained a 2.2 (that is, “second-rate”) degree, but he thrived in the social atmosphere of the mid-1960’s. “It was a very good time to be at Cambridge,” he has stated. “I ceased to be a conservative snob under the influence of the Vietnam War and dope.” He continued his involvement in theater, and upon his graduation in 1968, he attempted to work in the entertainment industry in Pakistan. He found that censorship was inescapable there, however, and returned to London, where he worked in amateur theatricals and supported himself as a copywriter at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. He had already begun to think of himself as a writer, however, and he completed a never-published novel in 1971, “The Book of the Pir,” which he has described as “post-Joycean and sub-Joycean.”


(The entire section is 1556 words.)

Salman Rushdie Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ahmed Salman Rushdie (ROOSH-dee) was born in Bombay, India, on June 19, 1947, two months before India gained its independence from the British, but the place and date that will forever be attached to his name are Tehran, Iran, February 14, 1989. On that Saint Valentine’s Day, a writer whose persistent literary themes have been metamorphosis and exile found himself transformed into a target and underground man by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa sentencing him to death and encouraging all Muslim believers to find him and kill him.

Like Saleem Sinai, the hero of Midnight’s Children (1981), Rushdie grew up in an upper-middle-class Muslim family in Bombay, the son of Anis Ahmed Rushdie and Negin Butt Rushdie. Salman and his three sisters were raised in the home described in Midnight’s Children, and Sinai attended the same British-style school that Rushdie did. At fourteen, Rushdie was sent to England to continue his education at Rugby. Like Saladin Chamcha in The Satanic Verses (1988), he was made to feel like an outsider throughout his time at the school and learned to adopt the manners and accent of his peers as a protective mask. In 1964, he enrolled in King’s College at Cambridge, where he studied history, read Western and Eastern literature, was involved in the college’s theater productions, and earned his M.A. with honors in 1968.

While Rushdie was in England, his family had immigrated to Pakistan. After he was graduated, he purchased a one-way ticket to Karachi and joined his family in their new home, fully expecting to make his life there. Yet he immediately found himself in conflict with the Islamic authorities. A production of Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story (pr., pb. 1959) that he put together for the government television station was censored because it contained the word “pork.” An article that he wrote for a magazine on his first impressions of Pakistan met the same fate. Within the year, he went back to England to live. For a year or so, he worked as an actor in London. During the 1970’s, he earned his living as an advertising copywriter and wrote fiction at night. In 1973, he completed his first published novel, Grimus (1975), which was variously described as a science-fiction tale, a fable, a fantasy, and a political satire.

In 1976, Rushdie married an English publishing executive, Clarissa Luard; they had a son, Zafar. Rushdie first gained international attention with the publication of his second novel, Midnight’s Children, which won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 1981, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1982, and an award from the English-Speaking Union in 1981. The book’s success allowed him to quit advertising and devote himself to his fiction full time. His next novel, Shame (1983), was also highly praised. Using a technique similar to that of Milan Kundera’s novels, it mixes genres—memoir, political essay, history, autobiography, myth, and fiction—to present a multigenerational saga of modern Pakistan. It was nominated for the Man Booker Prize and awarded the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger.

While working on his fourth novel, Rushdie wrote The Jaguar’s Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987) and numerous essays and reviews for British and American periodicals. Collected in Imaginary Homelands: Essays and...

(The entire section is 1393 words.)

Salman Rushdie Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Once upon a time—it was and it was not so, as the old stories used to say, it happened and it never did—maybe, then, or maybe not.” With these words from The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie suggests what connects the ancient storytellers of the East with the contemporary Magical Realists of the West. Drawing on both traditions, he has written novels that consciously blur the dividing lines between fairy tale and novel, myth and fiction. Born at a moment of tremendous change, he has sought to capture and reflect the turmoil and dislocation of his times in his work, only to find himself their victim. His voice and vision are unique, and his novels and essays are important contributions to understanding the conflicts...

(The entire section is 129 words.)

Salman Rushdie Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ahmed Salman Rushdie (ROOSH-dee) may be the most famous novelist of the Indian diaspora, though for some unfortunate reasons. Born into an affluent Muslim family in India, Rushdie began his education in 1954 at Bombay’s Cathedral School. Rushdie’s family sent him to Rugby, one of England’s finest boys’ schools, when he was thirteen. In 1964, during a war between India and Pakistan, his family moved to Karachi, Pakistan, where Rushdie spent his school vacations. From 1965 to 1968, he attended King’s College at Cambridge University, where he read history with an emphasis on Islamic religion and culture. After graduation, he returned to the East, joining his parents in the new state of Pakistan and working briefly for...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)

Salman Rushdie Biography

(eNotes Publishing)

Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India, in 1947 into a liberal, middle-class family. Although Islam was not central to his childhood, he nevertheless maintained an interest in it because of its centrality to his Indian culture. He received the finest of educations. After attending Cathedral School in Bombay, he studied at Rugby in England (1961-1964). Here Rushdie became sensitive to the ways in which English culture denigrated or exoticized his home country, partly through the demeaning insults thrown at him by his schoolmates. After Rugby, Rushdie attended King’s College at Cambridge and finished in 1968. He decided to stay in England after he graduated, desiring to assimilate more thoroughly into English culture. He married...

(The entire section is 287 words.)

Salman Rushdie Biography

(Novels for Students)
Salman Rushdie Published by Gale Cengage

Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India, on June 19, 1947, just two months before the protagonist of Midnight's Children, whose birth...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Salman Rushdie Biography

(Novels for Students)

Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947 to a prosperous family in Bombay, India. Although his background was Muslim, Rushdie was not brought up as...

(The entire section is 345 words.)

Salman Rushdie Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

To many readers, Rushdie has become the modern world’s preeminent victim of censorship. Not only has his novel The Satanic Verses (1988) been condemned in many Muslim countries, Rushdie himself was placed under a death threat endorsed by the Iranian government in early 1989. In a startling refutation of the lament of many modern fiction writers that their novels have no consequences, Rushdie has proven that the novel can still wound and inspire outrage. Six years after the issuance of the fatwa (or condemnation) against The Satanic Verses, Rushdie’s next novel, The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), was promptly banned by the government of India, allegedly for its insulting treatment of Hindu beliefs. As...

(The entire section is 286 words.)