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Salman Rushdie

June 19 marks the birthday of Salman Rushdie, born in Bombay, India, in 1947, two months before India's first day of independence.  He comes from a wealthy Muslim family.  His paternal grandfather was an Urdu poet, and his father was a Cambridge-educated businessman.  At the age of 14, Rushdie was sent to Rugby School in England.  In 1964, his parents moved to Karachi, Pakistan, joining the Muslim exodus at a time when the war between India and Pakistan forced them to choose sides and divided the loyalties Rushdie felt toward his native land.

Rushdie didn't like life in England, and he didn't like Pakistan.  He couldn't return to his former home in Bombay, so he took a job working as a journalist in Pakistan.  But he found too much censorship there, so he went back to England and tried to support himself as a writer.

He worked at first writing advertising copy.  His first assignment was to write a jingle about the merits of car seat belts to the tune of a Chuck Berry song.  While he was working there, he wrote a science fiction novel called Grimus (1975) that didn't do well.  Then he decided to write a book about India, the country that he hadn't seen in years.

Rushdie's second novel was called Midnight's Children (1981) about a man who was born the same day India gained independence.  The book was a huge success with Westerners and Indians, alike.  It won the Booker Prize, and Rushdie became the leader of so-called "post-colonial literature."  But his family hated the book.  He had revealed a lot of family secrets in the novel, and they didn't appreciate it.  The book was later translated into a stageplay.

Rushdie published Satanic Verses in 1987, and the following year, it won the Whitebread award.  Most Western critics failed to notice that its contents could be offensive to Muslims.  In the book, Rushdie makes several obscure jokes about Islam.  He names the whores in a Mecca brothel after the Prophet Muhammed's wives, and he suggests that the Koran is not the direct word of God.  The book was banned in some places and burned in others.  His publisher received bomb threats and a riot broke out in Kashmir.  When Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini watched television scenes of the riot, in which police shot several demonstrators, he issued a fatwa, proclaiming that "all zealous Muslims of the world" should try to find Rushdie wherever he was and kill him.

Rushdie went into hiding for nine years, but he has since emerged to write several more novels, including The Ground Beneath Her Feet (2000).

"Insults are mysteries. What seems to the bystander to be the cruelest, most destructive sledgehammer of an assault, whore! slut! tart!, can leave its target undamaged, while an apparently lesser gibe, thank god you're not my child, can fatally penetrate the finest suits of armour, you're nothing to me, you're less than the dirt on the soles of my shoes, and strike directly at the heart." - from The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Since the fatwa, Rushdie has shunned publicity, hiding from assassins, although he continues to write and publish books.  In Fury (2001), Malik Solanka, a former Cambridge professor, tries to find a new life in New York City.  He has left his wife and son and created an animated philosophizing doll, Little Brain, which has its own successful TV series.  The man has blackouts and violent rages and becomes involved with two women, Mila, who looks like Little Brain, and a beautiful freedom fighter named Neela Mahendra.  The book received mixed reviews.

Step Across This Line (2003) is a collection of non-fiction from 1992-2002, most in the form of articles written while the fatwa was in place.  In early 2000, Rushdie fell in love with an actress, left his third wife, and moved from London to New York where he presently lives and works.

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