It is the rare novelist who can elicit a contract for his death, but Salman Rushdie managed to do precisely that with a Postmodern, playful rumination on religion and politics that made Islamic literalists gnash their teeth and ready their Kalashnikovs.... [more]
It is the rare novelist who can elicit a contract for his death, but Salman Rushdie managed to do precisely that with a Postmodern, playful rumination on religion and politics that made Islamic literalists gnash their teeth and ready their Kalashnikovs. Born on the eve of India's declaration of independence, Rushdie was raised in a turbulent time when politicians used manufactured opinion and inflammatory rhetoric to stage mass upheaval. Taking his literary cue from what he had observed of political authority, Rushdie questioned the powerful role of the author, intermixing various literary styles and genres in order to fragment authorial voice and reveal its underpinnings.
Rushdie gained international recognition with "Midnight's Children" (1981), a contemporary tale that blends heroic fact and fiction. Exploring the first 30 years of Indian independence, the book employs witty, Joycean linguistic games and surreal, reality-cloaking imagery -- features that made Rushdie a darling of critics and common readers alike. With his next novel, "Shame" (1983), an allegorical, mythological text about Pakistan, Rushdie seemed to be settling into the role of esoteric fiction writer, addressing postcolonial themes for a primarily intellectual audience. All of that changed with the publication of "The Satanic Verses" (1988), the book that ignited a global political and religious furor and put the death contract on Rushdie's head. The novel's representation of the prophet Mohammed, lightly disguised as the character "Mahound" (a name traditionally assigned to satanic figures and also an antiquated derisive name given the prophet), was experienced by many Muslim communities as a shot through the heart, and more importantly, as a vicious act of blasphemy. Iran's leaders were especially offended and soon issued a fatwa calling for his death, which sent Rushdie into protective hiding for the next eight years (although pressure from the international community has prompted the Iranian government to lift the fatwa, hard-liners in Iran continue to consider it active).
Fortunately for readers, Rushdie's exile did not inhibit his productivity: "The Moor's Last Sigh" (1994) and "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" (1999) continued the development of his oeuvre. Neither did the danger of attack inhibit Rushdie from participating in public dialogue about his work. "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" has enjoyed immense publicity and popularity, an appropriate response given the novel's focus on celebrity, American popular music, and the omnipresence of the media. The text's self-referential language and skewed treatment of historical events poke fun at the public's short attention span and obsession with popular icons. Rushdie himself has become an icon of world literature because of his defense of free speech, and above all, the freedom to offend. [show less]