Salman Rushdie is still probably most famous for having had a price on his head larger than the vast majority of book advances.
The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, attracted the ire of the Ayatollah Khomeini who (with charming timing) called for Rushdie’s death on Valentines Day 1989. It would be nine years before Rushdie could again walk the streets without a team of minders in reasonable confidence that his imminent death by violence was unlikely. Reading The Satanic Verses today, it’s rather hard to see what all the fuss was about – granted, it does describe a brothel in which the gals take on the names and personalities of the wives of the Prophet Mahound (no prizes for guessing who he’s based on), and yes, it does unpick the legend that early Surahs (subsequently expunged) of the Qur’an were dictated by Satan rather than the Angel Gabriel and it must be conceded that it points out that texts twice dictated are unlikely to be inerrant… but it’s hardly the sort of thing you’d imagine people plotting murder over. But then again, nor were the Jyllands Posten cartoons.
Rushdie’s work as a fiction writer has rarely been short of spectacular: Midnight’s Children, Fury, The Moor’s Last Sigh, Shalimar the Clown, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and The Enchantress of Florence (in addition to The Satanic Verses) are all books that I recommended wholeheartedly – so it seems almost unfair that he’s brilliant at non-fiction too. Continue reading