Salman Rushdie: “This whole thing is behind me”

Salman Rushdie: “This whole thing is behind me”
Salman Rushdie: “This whole thing is behind me”

Weekly Books: In The knifeyou say that it was your agent, Andrew Wylie, who suggested that you write about the attack.

Salman Rushdie: Indeed. With Andrew, my agent for almost 40 years, we are like an old married couple! He understands me better than I understand myself. He first advised me not to write anything for a year. Then, after five or six months, he told me: “ You will write about it “. I started it last year, in February. It would have been stupid of me to write anything else, even if a lot of people thought I was going to avoid the subject. On the contrary, it is the subject which dictated this book to me, the sole reason for which is the attack of which I was the target.

“All my funds will gradually come out in Folio”

This is your first large format book to be published by Gallimard. Why this change?

Since 2009, Gallimard has already published several of my books in Folio. Andrew and I decided to bring together all my work in the same house. All my funds will gradually come out in Folio.

A collection of your Trials 1981-2002 has just been published at the same time as The knife

Yes, a large volume, which brings together two of my collections, Imaginary homelands And Cross the line…Two books for the price of one, I’m an economical author! And just for France.

Since your beginnings in literature, you have maintained a special relationship with our country. You understand and even speak our language quite well.

My very first novel, Grimus, was published by JC Lattès in 1977. It was my first translation, with Israel. And Midnight’s Children (Midnight’s children, Stock, 1983) won the Best Foreign Book Prize, the only one I received in France. It’s a long journey, and I love coming to France.

In your essays, as in The knife, you talk a lot about India, about your relationships with your country of origin. When was the last time you went back there?

Just before the pandemic. I went to several cities, including Delhi and Bombay, my hometown, to promote the film adaptation of Midnight’s Children, by Indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta. I wrote the screenplay. This is my first completed, produced screenplay, and for it I received my first awards in Canada.

You say you suffered from the lack of reaction, of support from the Indian authorities towards you.

I didn’t expect much from the officials, but still! Nothing. Unlike other leaders, like President Biden, or your President Macron. On the other hand, I received many messages of sympathy from Indian intellectuals, journalists and friends.

“I am not sure I recognize myself in the “new India” of the current Indian power”

Would you say, like Arundhati Roy, that the India of Narendra Modi “ is no longer a democracy » ?

A billion Indians are voting right now, that’s the nature of a democracy. But I grew up with faith in Gandhi and Nehru, who are no longer in the odor of sanctity today. I’m not sure I recognize myself in ” new India » of current Indian power.

THE Satanic verses are still prohibited there?

Officially, yes, but you can certainly buy the book on Amazon, and the pirated text is circulating on the Internet.

Do you ever think about what your life could have been like without Satanic verses ?

Life would have been quieter! The 1980s, for me, were happy ones. I liked the world I lived in. And then bad news, the fatwa. I told myself that I had to continue on the same trajectory, writing my books, without fear or a spirit of revenge. And I stuck to it. If you didn’t know anything about me, if you only read my novels, chronologically, you wouldn’t notice what happened to me in 1989. I’m quite proud of that.

The knife is an atypical, unclassifiable book.

I wondered myself what this text was. I almost titled: “ The knife, a love story “. Love for my wife, Eliza, my fifth wife (I’m not proud of that!), for my two sons, Zafar and Milan, my sisters… The whole family was devastated by what happened to me.

You are talking about your sons for the first time. What do they do in life ? Is one a writer?

Oh no, definitely not! Zafar works in events. Milan is more artistic, musical; he wants to become a sound engineer, music producer.

“It’s an American crime in a violent America, where mass murder is a daily occurrence”

Have they read your books?

Maybe two or three, I’m not sure! And that annoys me. I keep telling them to read them. But, after all, if their father were a lawyer, they would not be forced to take an interest in his cases.

Despite the attack, you remained living in New York. You haven’t thought about settling elsewhere?

No, I am now fixed on it. My wife has her family there. And then we often go to London, where mine lives. I am disgusted by the attack, and by my attacker, not by the United States. But I know this story has something to do with American violence. It is an American crime in a violent America, where mass murder is a daily occurrence.

A long part of Knife is devoted to four imaginary “sessions” with your abuser. Have you met him?

This is a fictional part, the most literary of the book, and the most interesting to me. I wrote it as a Socratic dialogue. The important thing for the novelist was to give his character a few good lines! I encountered my attacker only once, 30 seconds was enough for me. But this boy remains for me, a writer, a “romantic” mystery: what pushed a 24-year-old young man, with no criminal record or record for radicalization, to commit a crime against someone he did not know? doesn’t know, a writer he admits to not having read?

“I will testify if asked”

Will you testify in court?

The trial is supposed to take place in September, but I don’t know more. Yes, I will testify if asked, but the jury just needs to read my book, my statement is already in there!

The accused decided to plead “not guilty”. For what ?

It’s a negotiating tactic by his lawyers, I suppose. But I only expect one thing from this trial: that my attacker goes to prison for a long time. Now it’s his business, not mine. I almost feel “detached”. This whole story is behind me.

Are you working on your next novel?

I already have some fragments. But, for now, I’m busy promoting the Knife, whom I accompany in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, like a normal writer. Then, this summer, I’m getting back into it!


Salman Rushdie, The knife“From the whole world”, Gallimard, 270 p., 23 euros and Trials 1981-2002folio, Gallimard, 1084 p., 14.3 euros, in bookstores since April 18.


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