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regular-article-logo Friday, 24 May 2024

Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie wanted to rob ‘A’ of ‘oxygen of publicity’

Addressing a literary event at the Southbank Centre in London on Sunday virtually from New York, the 76-year-old Mumbai-born British-American novelist was in conversation with author and critic Erica Wagner about his account of the brutal on-stage knife attack in which he permanently lost vision in one eye

PTI & Reuters London Published 23.04.24, 06:03 AM
Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie File image

Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie has revealed the decision behind not naming his would-be assassin in his new memoir Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder was to rob him of “the oxygen of publicity”.

Addressing a literary event at the Southbank Centre in London on Sunday virtually from New York, the 76-year-old Mumbai-born British-American novelist was in conversation with author and critic Erica Wagner about his account of the brutal on-stage knife attack in which he permanently lost vision in one eye.

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He credited former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the phrase “oxygen of publicity”, which she used in the context of the violent attacks of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the 1980s, as the motivation behind referring to his attacker only as “A” in the book.

“That phrase, the oxygen of publicity, somehow stuck in my head. And I thought, well, so this guy had his 27 seconds of fame and now he should go back to being a nobody. I’m not going to name him, I don’t want his name in my book,” said Rushdie.

“So, I use this initial ‘A’ because I thought there were many things he was: a would-be assassin, an assailant, an adversary; he was many things, he was an ass,” he said, with a wry smile.

The acclaimed author was on stage at the Chautauqua Institution in New York in August 2022 when he was stabbed up to 10 times by the accused Hadi Matar, who awaits trial for attempted murder in prison. But the author revealed that he did not feel anger towards his assailant and the new book was his way of taking control of the narrative.

“What it did do, I feel, is it gave me back control of the narrative. So, instead of being a man lying on the stage in a pool of blood, I’m a man writing a book about a man lying on the stage with a pool of blood. And that felt like it gave me back the power; my story, that I’m telling in my way, and that felt good,” he shared.

Rushdie is well known as a writer of magical realism, something he attributes to his early childhood in India and growing up with fantastical tales.

“I’m quite down to earth in my world view, I don’t believe in miracles and things like that but somehow my books always have...I think a lot of that has to do with having grown up in a world in India, where all the stories you first hear are kind of fantastic tales, fable-like and magical,” said the author, who won the Booker of Bookers for Midnight’s Children — a fable-like tale about modern India.

“I always thought that was a good way to approach things and that somehow you could even get closer to the truth about human nature by abandoning realism. Also, I thought the world had abandoned realism. We don’t live in realism, we live in surrealism,” he noted.

But of his survival from the brutal knife attack, Rushdie has a more pragmatic view: “So many people have said to me that my survival was a miracle. I don’t believe any kind of divine hand reached down and helped me out. But I do believe in other kinds of miracles, I believe in medical miracles. I believe in the miracle of surgeons and just luck.

“So much of human life is determined by chance… the fact is that he tried very hard to kill me, but actually, he missed.”

The event, which was streamed globally, formed part of the Southbank Centre’s Spring Season of Literature and Spoken Word, which brings together internationally acclaimed authors, artists, historians, politicians and journalists.

A man named Hadi Matar has been charged with second-degree attempted murder. He is a US-born resident of New Jersey in his early twenties, whose parents emigrated from Lebanon. Prosecutors allege the assault was a belated response to the fatwa, a legal ruling under Sharia law, issued in 1989 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

He called for Rushdie’s assassination after the publication of The Satanic Verses. Matar has pleaded not guilty to the charge, and his trial is still pending.

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