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.