Thu | Jun 20, 2024

Has Salman Rushdie changed after his stabbing?

Well, he feels about 25, the author shared in a recent interview

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2024 | 12:07 AM

Salman Rushdie poses for a portrait to promote his book ‘Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder’.
Salman Rushdie poses for a portrait to promote his book ‘Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder’.


Nearly two years after the knife attack that nearly killed him, Salman Rushdie appears both changed and very much the same.

Interviewed this week at the Manhattan offices of his long-time publisher, Random House, he is thinner, paler, scarred and blind in his right eye. He speaks of “iron” in his soul and the struggle to write his next full-length work of fiction as he concentrates on promoting Knife, a memoir about his stabbing that he took on if only because he had no choice.

But he remains the engaging, articulate and uncensored champion of artistic freedom and the ingenious deviser of Midnight’s Children and other lauded works of fiction. He has been, and still is an optimist, helplessly so, he acknowledges. He also has the rare sense of confidence one can only attain through surviving one’s worst nightmare.

“In Midnight’s Children I wrote about optimism as a disease. People get infected by it and I think I got a lifetime infection,” he says.

Chronologically, he is nearly 77, the age his father was when he died, an age he sees as kind of a milestone in his own quest to beat expectations.

Internally, he feels about 25.

“I think one of the great things about writing – you need a kind of youthfulness to do it, because it requires energy, imagination, dreaming. It’s a young man’s game. I’ve said somewhere that when you’re young and you’re writing, you have to fake wisdom. When you’re older and you’re writing, you have to fake energy,” he said.

A self-described nice child, one who did not see himself as destined to get in trouble, Rushdie has had a life well beyond even his own boundless dreams. The 1981 Booker Prize win for Midnight’s Children established him as a dynamic voice of post-colonial literature. Nearly a decade later, he would reach a terrifying level of fame with The Satanic Verses, and the call for his death issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Rushdie was driven into hiding. But by August 2022, he had thought himself safe enough to address a conference in western New York with minimal security: No one was on hand to stop a young assailant, Hadi Matar, from rushing the stage and stabbing him repeatedly. Matar, then 24, has been charged with attempted murder and assault.

Rushdie spoke to AP about why he wrote the explicit account of his attack, what he has learnt about himself and what he might do next.

The author shared that parts of Knife was difficult to write. “I was worried about retraumatisation, that was the worry. And the first chapter, in which the actual attack is described in great detail – that was very hard to write,” said Rushdie.

He recalled writing being very difficult up to six months after the attack. “I couldn’t even think about writing. I wasn’t physically strong enough. And when I did sit down to write, initially, I didn’t want to write this book. I actually wanted to get back to fiction, and I tried and it just seemed stupid. I just thought, ‘Look, something very big happened to you.’ And to pretend that it didn’t and just go on telling fairy tales would seem like – I would have felt like I was avoiding the subject,” he said.

Therapy and a therapist were integral as he put pen to paper. “I have a very good therapist and actually this is a book written also with the help of a therapist. I was talking to him every week, and discussing what I was doing. And he was helpful, actually. Very clear thinking and helped me clear my thinking. So that was something I had not done before,” he shared.

As for writing his next novel and the possibility of it being a work of fiction, Rushdie is still undecided. “I don’t have the next novel,” he said. “I hope I will, but the only fiction I’ve written since finishing this book is a kind of story. It’s a thing I don’t know quite what to do with. It’s a story that’s about 60 pages, 65 pages long. And I’m not sure whether to think it’s like a novella or whether I want to add to it and make it more, or that I want to cut it in half and make it a story.”