“The Satanic Verses,” the Fatwa, and a Life Changed : The New Yorker

For those of you who like the writings of Salmon Rushdie, a lengthy account by Rushdie of the genesis of The Satanic Versus, the aftermath of the fatwa against the book in 1989, and the affects on him and then close to him. In anticipation of his forthcoming book about this moment and period, Josef Anton.

Disclosure: I was flying back to work at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran the day the fatwa was announced, so this period has particular significance to me.

Concluding quote:

He had spent his life naming fictional characters. Now, by naming himself, he had turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well. Conrad Chekhov wouldn’t have worked. But Joseph Anton was someone who might exist. Who now did exist. Conrad, the translingual creator of wanderers, of voyagers into the heart of darkness, of secret agents in a world of killers and bombs, and of at least one immortal coward, hiding from his shame; and Chekhov, the master of loneliness and of melancholy, of the beauty of an old world destroyed, like the trees in a cherry orchard, by the brutality of the new, Chekhov, whose “Three Sisters” believed that real life was elsewhere and yearned eternally for a Moscow to which they could not return: these were his godfathers now. It was Conrad who gave him the motto to which he clung, as if to a lifeline, in the long years that followed. In the now unacceptably titled “The Nigger of the Narcissus,” the hero, a sailor named James Wait, stricken with tuberculosis on a long sea voyage, is asked by a fellow-sailor why he came aboard, knowing that he was unwell. “I must live till I die—mustn’t I?” Wait replies.

In his present circumstances, the question felt like a command. “Joseph Anton,” he told himself, “you must live till you die.” 

“The Satanic Verses,” the Fatwa, and a Life Changed : The New Yorker.

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