the line of fans snakes its way up the aisle of Glenn Memorial
Church toward author Salman Rushdie, he borrows a pen to
sign copies of The Satanic Verses, The Moors Last
Sigh, and Midnights Children.
novelist Salman Rushdie finds his own truth through fiction
woman holds out her book and says, You dont
have to sign it. Just touch it.
arched eyebrows rising even higher than usual, looks bemused
as he places his right hand atop the books cover.
But he doesnt question her reverence. The multicultural
writer, who lived under a decade-long fatwaor death
sentencebecause of perceived blasphemy against
Islam in his writings, understands better than most
the powerful impact of fiction.
fictionality of fiction promises truth in its untruth,
said Rushdie, in the first of three lectures and a reading
he gave at Emory in early October as the Richard Ellman
Lecturer in Modern Literature. Fiction . . . captures
the strangeness of the worlds beauty.
biennial event honors the late Robert W. Woodruff Professor
Richard Ellman, biographer of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde.
Rushdies trilogy of lectures, The Other Great
Tradition, he outlined an alternative pantheon of
storytellers outside the scope of those canonized by literary
critic F. R. Leavis in the mid-twentieth century: Proteus,
the Greek sea god who could change shape at will; Heraclitus,
the Greek philosopher of flux and fire who
became famous for his pronouncement, All things
are flowing; and Scheherazade, narrator of The
Arabian Nights, who told the first cliffhangers
to prolong her life.
is not one thing, but many things, said Rushdie,
a British subject who was born and raised in a middle-class
Muslim family in Bombay and educated at Kings College,
Cambridge. It is a ghost story, a comedy, a tragedy,
a political drama, a psychodrama, a love story. . . .
People who dont care for my writing say my families
are overblown and operatic. People who like it say, They
are just like my family.
gained international attention with the publication of
his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1989), which
tells the story of two Indian actors who fall to earth
and undergo a series of transformations and revelations
after the jumbo jet in which they are riding explodes
above the English Channel. Muslim critics claimed The
Satanic Verses distorted Islam and viciously
insulted their beliefs.
novel was banned in India even before publication, and
former Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini called
for all zealous Muslims to execute the writer and publishers
of the book. Rushdie, who now lives in New York City,
was in seclusion from 1989 to 1998, when the fatwa was
formally lifted by the current leadership of Iran. His
talks at Emory are among his first public appearances
in the southeast.
the lectures, which concluded with a reading of his newer
works, Rushdie served up plenty of lighthearted anecdotes,
literary allusions, and autobiographical detail, from
describing his earliest days at Kings College in
1968 (I lived in an attic room in London in a flat
I shared with my sister and three friends. It was triangular
. . . like living inside a box of Toblerone chocolate.)
to finding his writing voice (I would never write
a good book until I admitted to myself who I was. Who
I was was not English. I was an Indian man.).
self-acceptance, Rushdie said, resulted in his most critically
acclaimed novel, Midnights Children, which
won the Booker Prize in 1981. The novel is an allegory
of Indian history revolving around the lives of one thousand
and one children with magical properties born within one
hour of midnight on the day the country achieved independence
from Great Britain in 1947 (also the year Rushdie was
are storytelling animalswho we are, what we are
up to, and why, said Rushdie, in concluding his
final lecture. When we die, we become part of other
stories. This residue is our immortality.M.J.L.