Salman Rushdie has agreed to speak with EL PAÍS on the occasion of the publication this week of
(Random House), fabulous chronicle of the vijayanagara empire, in southern India, between the 14th and 16th centuries.
The conversation takes place via Zoom.
When his face appears on the screen, he looks gloomy.
He wears glasses, one lens of which is black, in order to hide the eye socket he lost in the attack.
He has a scar on one side of his face, barely visible, and another on the left corner of his lip, which does not affect his diction.
His expression is serene and his voice more subdued than usual, though he hasn't lost his delicate sense of humor and occasionally smiles.
He is wearing a short-sleeved black T-shirt.
In the depths of the room from which he speaks are books, a fireplace and a printer lost in the shadows.
Just six months ago he was at death's door.
On the morning of August 11, moments before Salman Rushdie (Bombay, 1947) addressed an audience of more than a thousand people gathered at a cultural center located in the town of Chautauqua, in the southwest of New York State. , on the shores of an idyllic lake, a 24-year-old religious fanatic who goes by the name of Hadi Matar, climbed on stage and stabbed him 15 times.
His presenter, Henry Reese, immediately jumped on the assailant, being stabbed in turn, although he managed to save Rushdie's life.
A police officer restrained the attacker by handcuffing him, and four medics in the audience managed to control the profuse blood loss while more help arrived.
Meanwhile, the writer, conscious but not understanding what was happening, was crying out about the terrible pain caused by his wounds.
It all happened in a matter of minutes.
Emergency services immediately treated Rushdie and a helicopter airlifted him to a medical center in Erie, Pennsylvania, where doctors managed to save his life.
His fifth wife, the poet and novelist Rachel Griffiths, moved in immediately with him.
A few agonizing days followed during which he feared for his life, but after a month and a half the writer was discharged and was able to return to his home, where he is slowly recovering, while continuing to receive continuous medical care.
How do you feel physically and psychologically six months after the attack?
I am not fully recovered.
I get very tired, but I am healing and psychologically I feel better.
I haven't made it out of the tunnel yet, but I will.
Q. Do you write?
R. Very little, but ideas are beginning to occur to me.
I hope my brain finds a way to regain the mental habit necessary to write, although that hasn't happened yet.
Q. Do you sleep well?
Do you have nightmares?
R. At first I had many, but now not so many.
“I am excited with the reception given to 'Ciudad Victoria', but I don't want the novel to be judged by the attack I suffered, but by its literary merits”
Q. Is it true that days before the attack you dreamed that someone attacked you with a sharp object?
A. Yes, it is true.
Q. Do you believe in the power of dreams?
A. In a literal sense, no.
It was a very strange coincidence.
It didn't look like what happened.
Someone was attacking me with some kind of spear.
Q. There has been an
outpouring of affection and sympathy for you
after the attack.
Was it different from when you were sentenced to death by the ayatollahs?
A. Then there was a certain division of opinion in the press, while now the reaction of support has been unanimous, I suppose because I was actually about to die.
The photograph that Salman Rushdie published this week on his Twitter.
Q. You have always been a champion of freedom of expression, with a leading role in projects such as the Voices of the World Festival, PEN or Cities of Asylum.
Writers are still threatened.
A. Sadly, that's right.
From my work with PEN and other organizations I know that there are many writers in different parts of the world who are in danger and need protection.
Q. What is Cities of Asylum?
R. An organization dedicated to offering refuge and protection to writers from all over the world who need it.
Today it responds to the initials of ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network).
The headquarters is in Norway.
I feel proud to have been one of the promoters.
Q. Precisely on the day of the attack, the person who introduced it, Henry Reese, was a representative of the organization.
A. In fact, the event was not about me.
It was an act of support for Cities of Asylum.
The irony is that a day whose purpose was to support threatened writers was the scene of an attack on a writer.
Q. Do you regret anything you have written?
If I could go back, would I change anything?
R. I would prefer not to live under this threat, but I would not change anything at all.
In a way, the question is superfluous, because since the fatwa was proclaimed for having written The Satanic Verses, which was my fifth book, I have published 16 more, and I am proud of it.
I do not regret anything.
Q. In what context did
The Satanic Verses
A. I'm sorry, but I don't want to talk about it.
“As Woody Allen said, I am not happy knowing that I will live in my work after I am dead.
I would prefer to continue living in my house”
Q. What would you say is the line that runs through all your books?
A. My life.
My books are a reflection of the different states of consciousness that I have gone through at various times in my life.
Over time, ideas and relationship with things change.
I have moved countries twice, first from India to England and then to the United States.
That circumstance has shaped my books, which are a better autobiography than if I had literally written one.
My works are the autobiography of my imagination.
Q. There is another line that runs through all your books and it is your way of treating fantasy.
How would you characterize what he does in that sense?
R. If I look at the Western tradition, I feel close to what Bulgakov or Kafka did, and also to the North American fabulists of the seventies, like Pynchon, who influenced me a lot when I was young.
Q. Your work is unique in the sense that it is an amalgamation of traditions as diverse as the Eastern
, Greek mythology and some of the biggest names in the Western canon, such as Conrad and Chekhov, whose first names he used to title his memoirs, Joseph Anton.
To this we should add a long etcetera, starting with Kafka, Mann, Joyce, Calvino...
R. And the tradition of the Indian novel, which is relatively young, 150 years old.
I create a fictional space following in the footsteps of RK Narayan, who created the imaginary city of Malgudi.
The city of my novel is Vijayanagara.
They are imaginary spaces like those of García Márquez or Faulkner, but more real than those that have a geographical existence.
Q. How was the writing process?
R. It took me almost three years to write it.
I spent a lot of time researching, reading about the period, the history of an empire that lasted 250 years.
I managed to get started when the protagonist, Pampa Kampana, appeared to me and she told me: “I will live 250 years and I will tell your story”.
Q. What do you mean by that he appeared to you?
What exactly happened?
R. I had no idea that it was going to be in the book and one fine day, it was there, in front of me.
I got up and looked at the same screen that I'm looking at now as I'm talking to you and I saw it as I'm looking at you.
And then I asked him: who are you?
And she told me.
Essentially she came to me to say: “Pay attention and I will tell you the story”.
And I paid attention.
Moments after the attack, last August, Rushdie is treated on stage.CHARLES SAVENOR/LOCAL NEWS X/TMX
Q. The expectation before the release of the book has been enormous.
A. I'm excited.
This book is more important to me than others because it came out after the attack I suffered, but I don't want it to be judged by that, but by the literary merits it may have.
Q. The novel is presented as a meditation on the role of fiction and the power of words.
A. Yes. The title is a translation of
, the City of Victory, but the novel is a city of words and those who are victorious are the words, which is a way of saying that it is language that creates the world.
At the beginning of the book, the protagonist says that she is the author of an imaginary text that she will bury as a message for the future and that it will not be read until 450 years have passed, that is, now.
The language recreates the city through the words of the protagonist.
What I wanted to imply is that the art of language can literally create the world.
Q. The protagonist is a woman who lives 248 years during which she witnesses innumerable historical changes.
It is inevitable to think of
, by Virginia Woolf.
R. The wonderful thing about literature is that nothing is ever done for the first time.
Everything has been done before.
I deeply admire Virginia Woolf.
The best novel of hers for me is
, which I constantly reread.
Orlando is an extraordinary text that he undoubtedly had in mind and in some way influenced the gestation of the novel.
Q. Another obvious influence is Calvino.
A. Of course.
There is a fragment that is a deliberate pastiche of Invisible Cities, in which two characters describe imaginary cities that bear their respective names, and that I add to the catalog invented by Calvino as a tribute.
I was lucky enough to meet Calvino when I was very young and he always encouraged me.
In fact, when
Children of Midnight
was published in Italian, he wrote a very long review.
I treated him with some frequency until he died.
I was also lucky enough to meet EM Forster when I studied at Cambridge.
He was an endearing and approachable man.
“My books are the autobiography of my imagination”
Q. During the pandemic you wrote a play about Helen of Troy.
R. I have always been very interested in Greek tragedy, and the figure of Helen of Troy intrigued me because everyone knows who she is, but in reality she is a void.
No one has treated her as a character in her own right, so I decided to fill the void.
It will open in London early next year.
To complicate matters further, I wrote it in verse.
I am not a poet.
Throughout my life I have only published one poem, but my work on Helen of Troy is 90 pages of iambic pentameters.
Q. Do you think you will write about the attack as you did the worst years of the fatwa in
R. Maybe yes, I'm thinking about it.
Not like in
, because that book covers more than a decade of my life.
It is the longest I have ever written.
This would be different.
This is something that happened and if I write about it it would be to understand what something like this means to me as a human being.
Are there larger issues behind an act that nearly cost me my life, issues that have repercussions beyond me as an individual?
I have no answer to those questions.
Q. You have always been an extraordinarily vital and optimistic person.
Do you face the future with hope?
R. I have been very lucky to have made it out alive.
His question makes me think of something Woody Allen said when asked if he was happy to know that he would continue to live in his movies after he died, to which he replied that he would prefer to continue living in his house [ laughs].
Q. Going back to the beginning of the interview, have you been able to write anything?
R. For six months I have not written a single page worthwhile.
Salman Rushdie, after the publication of 'The Satanic Verses', which triggered a feud by Khomeini against him.
Three essential titles beyond
The Satanic Verses
The August attack aroused, in addition to universal outrage, a wave of sympathy for Rushdie, with acts of support all over the world, the most significant of which was held at the doors of the New York Public Library, the city that the writer adopted to live when he believed the death sentence handed down against him for the 1988 publication of
The Satanic Verses had fallen into relative oblivion
, novel that the ecclesiastical authorities of Iran considered blasphemous against Islam.
He was wrong.
Six months ago, an American radical of Lebanese parents believed that it was his obligation to carry out the sentence.
After spending the night outdoors, he bought a ticket to attend the event starring Rushdie and stabbed him.
Beyond The Satanic Verses, its author is one of the greats of living literature in English.
In his work, to which
has just joined , the following three books stand out:
Children of Midnight (1981).
Rushdie's best novel, a narrative achievement that merges with imperceptible fluidity the novelistic traditions of the East and the West.
Haroun and the sea of stories (1990).
Collection of stories inspired by Indian fables that he wrote for his 10-year-old son.
Joseph Anton (2012).
His recounting of the years he lived in hiding in London, protected by the Scotland Yard secret service, is a lesson in literature and a fascinating portrait of his life.
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