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Works And Words – Crash-Comprehending Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie lives in the pith of readers and book lovers because of his satire, moody oeuvre and unique phrasing. Kathryn Hume argues that one of Rushdie's most effective techniques for emphasising problematic dualistic thinking is the pairing of characters.

Writer Salman Rushdie
Writer Salman Rushdie Getty Images

Salman Rushdie, or Salman Ahmed Rushdie, born in Mumbai to a family originating in Kashmir, is famed for his own styl of Post-colonial Magic Realism and controversies around his novels, especially his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988). 

The novel made to the Booker prize final list and won a Costa award. It was considered a betrayal of Islam and blasphemous by a section of followers of the religion. In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared a fatwa against the author. 

Rushdie, however, lives in the pith of readers and book lovers because of his satire, moody oeuvre and unique phrasing. Kathryn Hume argues that one of Rushdie's most effective techniques for emphasising problematic dualistic thinking is the pairing of characters. 

“Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself,” said Salman Rushdie. If we blindly delve into his word-pool we will echo his own quotes —

Novels

Grimus (1975) — The story follows the Flapping Eagle, a Native American youth who obtains the gift and curse of immortality after drinking a magic fluid.

Quote from Grimus

“Among geniuses intelligence loses its currency; they vie with each other at cooking or sex. So with immortals. When age becomes a constant, it becomes irrelevant.”

Midnight's Children (1981) — The novel traverses the historical shift of 1947 and chronicles the making of the modern India centering on the indissolubly connected destinies of two children who were born within the first hour of independence from Great Britain.

Quotes from Midnight's Children

“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I'm gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”
 
“Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.”

Shame (1983)— Salman Rushdie’s phantasmagorical epic of an unnamed country that is “not quite Pakistan”. The novel chronicles an unending feud between the families of two protagonists — one a celebrated wager of war, and the other a debauched lover of pleasure. Rushdie brilliantly portrays a world caught between honor and humiliation — “shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence".

Quote from Shame

“Realism can break a writer's heart.”

The Satanic Verses (1988)— The plot of the novel pivots on the survival of its protagonists Gibreel and Saladin when the terrorists blast a bomb. Gibreel lost his religious inclinations after a serious illness. Saladin is a voice actor who has had a falling out with his father. The story analyses the concepts of religion, good versus evil, immigration and adjustments.

Quotes from The Satanic Verses

“Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.”

“From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.”

“Masks beneath masks until suddenly the bare bloodless skull.”

The Moor's Last Sigh (1995)— The novel captures the milieus of India and Spain. Moraes (Moor) journeys from India to Spain, discovers more and more about his ancestors, and how their life affected his. The book deals with some real historical figures and events, including Boabdil's surrender of Granada, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Bombay bombings, the gangster and terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, as well as modern Indian political organisations like Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena.

Quotes from The Moor's Last Sigh

“How to forgive the world for its beauty, which merely disguises its ugliness; for its gentleness, which merely cloaks its cruelty; for its illusion of continuity, seamlessly, as the night follows the day, so to speak- whereas in reality life is a series of brutal raptures, falling upon your defenseless hands, like the blows of a woodman's axe?”

“Ignorantly is how we all fall in love; for it is a kind of fall. Closing our eyes, we leap from that cliff in hope of a soft landing. Nor is it always soft; but still, without that leap nobody comes to life.”

The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) – Ormus and Vina meet in a Bombay record store to roll on the dice of the novel. The story details the triangular love of two men, Ormus Cama and Umeed "Rai" Merchant (the narrator) for Vina Apsara. It amplifies a contextual and alternate history to the entire 1950s-90s period of the growth of rock music.

Quote from The Ground Beneath Her Feet

“Whenever someone who knows you disappears, you lose one version of yourself. Yourself as you were seen, as you were judged to be. Lover or enemy, mother or friend, those who know us construct us, and their several knowings slant the different facets of our characters like diamond-cutter's tools. Each such loss is a step leading to the grave, where all versions blend and end.”

Fury (2001)— Malik Solanka, an idealist and renowned doll maker, breaks the circle of his life one day, abandons his family in London without a word of explanation, and flees for New York. Fury is a work of explosive energy, at once a pitiless and pitch-black comedy, a profoundly disturbing inquiry into the darkest side of human nature, and a love story of mesmerizing force.

Quotes from Fury

“I know that when people pull apart, they usually employ misunderstanding as a weapon, deliberately getting hold of the stick's wrong end, impaling themselves on its point in order to prove the perfidy of the other.”

“Do not contemplate what lies beyond failure while you are still trying to succeed.”

Shalimar the Clown (2005)— Shalimar the Clown is the story of Maximilian Ophuls, America’s counterterrorism chief, one of the makers of the modern world; his Kashmiri Muslim driver and subsequent killer, a mysterious figure who calls himself Shalimar the clown; Max’s illegitimate daughter India; and a woman who links them, whose revelation finally explains them all.

It is an epic narrative that moves from California to Kashmir, France, and England, and back to California again. Along the way there are tales of princesses lured from their homes by demons, legends of kings forced to defend their kingdoms against evil. And there is always love, gained and lost, uncommonly beautiful and mortally dangerous.

Quotes from Shalimar the Clown

“The inevitable triumph of illusion over reality that was the single most obvious truth about the history of the human race.”

“Freedom is not a tea party, India. Freedom is a war. ”

The Enchantress of Florence (2008)— The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess the powers of enchantment and sorcery, attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world. It is the story of two cities at the height of their powers — the hedonistic Mughal capital in which the brilliant emperor Akbar the Great wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of his sons, and the equally sensual city of Florence during the High Renaissance, where Niccolò Machiavelli takes a starring role as he learns, the hard way, about the true brutality of power.

Profoundly moving and completely absorbing, The Enchantress of Florence is a dazzling book full of wonders by one of the world’s most important living writers.

Quotes from The Enchantress of Florence

“Language upon a silvered tongue affords enchantment enough.”

“Why obliterate the exceptional merely in order to make the outstanding look finer than it was?”

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015)— The novel is set in New York City in the near future. It deals with jinns, and recounts the story of a jinnia princess and her offspring during the "strangenesses". After a great storm, slits between the world of jinns and the world of men are opened and strange phenomena emerge as dark jinnis invade the Earth.

The jinnia princess and her children thus need to fight to defend the Earth and the humans from them, the Grand Ifrits. All the while, the Great Philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and the famous theologian Al-Ghazali pursue a philosophical debate about reason and God.

Quotes from Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

"Everything is relative, one man’s absolute belief is another man’s fairy tale;"

"We were all trapped in stories, she said, just as he used to say, his wavy hair, his naughty smile, his beautiful mind, each of us the prisoner of our own solipsistic narrative, each family the captive of the family story, each community locked within its own tale of itself, each people the victims of their own versions of history, and there were parts of the world where the narratives collided and went to war, where there were two or more incompatible stories fighting for space on, to speak, the same page."

The Golden House (2017)— Set against the strange and exuberant backdrop of current American culture and politics, The Golden House also marks Salman Rushdie’s triumphant and exciting return to realism. The result is a modern epic of love and terrorism, loss and reinvention—a powerful, timely story told with the daring and panache that make Salman Rushdie the standard-bearer of our dark new age.

Quote from The Golden House

“I don’t want to be elite. Am I elite?” “You need to work on it. You need to become post-factual.” “Is that the same as fictional?”

“Fiction’s elite. Nobody believes it. Post-factual is mass market, information-age, troll generated. It’s what people want.”

Quichotte (2019)— Quichotte is a metafiction that tells the story of an addled Indian-American man who travels across America in pursuit of a celebrity television host with whom he has become obsessed.

Quote from Quichotte

“Maybe I should go home. I miss Bombay. But the Bombay I miss isn't there to go home to anymore. This is who we are. We sail away from the place we love and then because we aren't there to love it people go with axes and burning torches and smash and burn and then we say, Oh, too sad. But we abandoned it, left it to our barbarian successors to destroy.”

“Men on the road together have three choices. They separate, they kill one another, or they work things out.”

Others—

Collections

  • East, West (1994)
  • Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing 1947–1997 (1997, Editor, with Elizabeth West)
  • The Best American Short Stories (2008, Guest Editor)

Children's books

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990)[148]
  • Luka and the Fire of Life (2010)

Essays and non-fiction

  • The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987)
  • In Good Faith, Granta Books (1990)
  • Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981–1991 (1992)
  • The Wizard of Oz: BFI Film Classics, British Film Institute (1992)
  • Mohandas Gandhi, Time (13 April 1998)
  • Imagine There Is No Heaven (Extract from Letters to the Six Billionth World Citizen, published in English by Uitgeverij Podium, Amsterdam)
  • Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992–2002 (2002)
  • The East Is Blue (2004)
  • "A fine pickle", The Guardian (28 February 2009)
  • In the South, Booktrack (7 February 2012)
  • Joseph Anton: A Memoir (2012)
  • Languages of Truth: Essays 2003–2020 (2021)

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