Salman Rushdie Biography
Who is Salman Rushdie?
The 75-year-old’s many books have been hugely successful, and his second novel, The Midnight Child, won the Booker Prize in 1981.
But it was his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” published in 1988, that became his most controversial work, sparking international unrest on an unprecedented scale.
Death threats were made against Rushdie, who was forced to go into hiding after its publication, while the author was placed under police protection by the British government.
Britain and Iran have severed diplomatic ties, but writers and intellectuals in the Western world have condemned the threat to free speech posed by Muslim responses to the book.
In 1989, a year after the book was published, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a decree calling for the novelist’s assassination.
Salman Rushdie was born in Mumbai two months before India gained independence from Britain.
At the age of 14 he was sent to England and Rugby School and received an honours BA in History at King’s College Cambridge.
He became a British citizen and invalidated his Muslim faith. He worked briefly as an actor – he worked at Cambridge Footlights – and then as a copywriter, writing novels at the same time.
His first book, Grimes, was not a huge success, but some critics saw him as a writer with great potential.
Rushdie spent five years writing his second book, The Midnight Child, which won the Booker Prize in 1981, was critically acclaimed and sold half a million copies.
“Midnight’s Children” is about India, while Rushdie’s third novel, “Shame,” published in 1983, is about a thinly disguised Pakistan. Four years later, Rushdie wrote “Jaguar Smile,” about a trip to Nicaragua.
In September 1988, his life-threatening work, The Satanic Verses, was published. The surreal, postmodern novel has sparked outrage among some Muslims, who say its content is blasphemous.
India was the first country to ban it. Pakistan has done the same, as have several other Muslim countries and South Africa.
The novel was well received in many ways and won the Whitbread Prize for Fiction. But backlash against the book grew, and two months later, street protests intensified.
Muslims see it as an insult to Islam. Among other things, they objected that the two prostitutes in the book were named after the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.
The title of the book refers to two verses that Muhammad removed from the Qur’an because he believed they were inspired by the devil.
In January 1989, Muslims in Bradford ritually burned copies of the book, and WH Smith newsstands stopped displaying it there. Rushdie has denied the blasphemy charges.
In February, people were killed in anti-Rushdie riots across the subcontinent, the British embassy in Tehran was stoned, and the perpetrators were paid the price on their heads.
Meanwhile, in Britain, some Muslim leaders urged restraint, while others supported the ayatollah. The United States, France and other Western countries have condemned the death threats.
Rushdie, now hiding in police custody with his wife, expressed deep regret for the suffering he caused Muslims, but the ayatollah reiterated his call for the perpetrators to be put to death.
Publisher Viking Penguin’s London office was picketed, and its New York office received death threats.
But the book became a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. The protests against the extreme Muslim backlash have been backed by EEC countries, all of which have temporarily withdrawn ambassadors from Tehran.
Rushdie’s later books include the children’s novel Harlan and the Sea of Stories (1990), the essay collection Imagining Homes (1991), as well as the novels East, West (1994), The Moor’s Last Sigh ( 1995), The Underground Land, His Feet (1999) and Rage (2001). He was involved in the stage adaptation of Midnight’s Children, which premiered in London in 2003.
Over the past two decades, he has published Shalimar the Clown, The Witches of Florence, Two Years, Eight Months, Twenty-Eight Nights, The Golden House and Don Quixote.
Rushdie has been married four times and has two children. He now lives in the United States and was knighted in 2007 for his contributions to literature.
In 2012, he published Joseph Anton: A Memoir about his life after the Satanic Verses controversy.