Every English novel connoisseur is familiar with the works of Salman Rushdie. He is a British-Indian author of many highly acclaimed novels and also a Fellow of the British Royal Society of Literature. His 4th novel ‘The Satanic Verses (1988) accompanied a lot of controversy in his life, yet it did not derail him from being an artist and penning down some fantastic pieces of Literature. Let us take a look at the life of one of the most recognized authors of the 20th century revered by millions in some parts of the world while condemned in others!
“A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep”.
Early Life and Education
Born on June 19, 1947, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie was the only son of Anis Ahmed Rushdie, a wealthy Kashmiri Muslim businessman and Negin Bhatt.
Rushdie started his education at a private school in Bombay before attending The Rugby School, a boarding school in Warwickshire, England. A writer who wrote an article in the New Yorker on the life of Salman Rushdie mentioned that at Rugby, he was the victim of racial discrimination. He excelled in debating and won a scholarship to King’s College and went on to pursue his postgraduate degree at the King’s College at the University of Cambridge, where he received an M.A. degree in History in 1968.
In the early days of his career, he worked in London as an advertising copywriter for the British advertising company- Ogilvy and Mather. He published his 1st novel Grimus, in 1975 while working as a copywriter. Although he hated his time as a copywriter, he says “I do feel that a lot of the professional craft of writing is something I learned from those years in advertising and I’ll always be grateful for it.”
In 1976, Rushdie married Clarissa Luard, whom he had met in 1970. Their son Zafar was born in 1979, one year before the publication of ‘Midnight Children’, his breakthrough novel that was about to put him on the path to fame. His marriage with Clarissa ended in 1985, shortly after his 2-year affair with writer Robyn Davidson that was also called quits and Rushdie went on to have a relationship with writer Marianne Wiggins that too ended shortly after Rushdie had to go into hiding due to the ‘controversy’.
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Salman Rushdie is the author of fourteen novels:
- Midnight’s Children (which was awarded the Booker Prize in 1981)
- The Satanic Verses
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories
- The Moor’s Last Sigh
- The Ground Beneath Her Feet
- Shalimar the Clown
- The Enchantress of Florence
- Luka and the Fire of Life
- Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
- The Golden House
His journey as an author started with the publication of his book ‘Grismus’, a science fiction novel, in 1975. Unfortunately, that book did not receive kind reviews and recognition. Without paying heed to the negative response, he wrote another book that altered his life.
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The Midnight Children
Salman Rushdie got his acclaim to fame through his novel ‘The Midnight Children’ published in 1981, that shot up his esteem in the literary world. It was a tale of complicated circumstances in the history of India’s independence retold through a mystical-realist narrative. It received a Booker Prize in 1981. In 1993 and 2008, it was also voted as the Best of the Booker – the best winner in the award’s 40 year history. In 2012, ‘The Midnight Children’ was adapted into a fim, directed by Deepa Mehta.
Salman Rushdie’s next book “Shame” published in 1983 was also nominated for a Booker Prize. It received the French literary prize, Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger. However, this book was banned in Pakistan. His rise in success was short-lived as the release of the book ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1988, did not receive the same reception and drew a lot of condemnation towards the author that turned his life around.
What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
The Satanic Verses Controversy (The Rushdie Affair)
The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, brought on a series of gruesome ordeals in the life of the author. The main story of the novel was inspired in part by the life of Prophet Muhammad. While it won the Whitbread Award for novel of the year, it drew a lot of outrage from the Islamic world who perceived the book to be blasphemous and lacked reverence on the account of Muhammad. On February 14, 1989, the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa (proclamation) against the author, requiring his execution. He also faced an assassination attempt in London by a Lebanese Mujahideen group and was compelled to go into hiding.
Rushdie issued a public apology and voiced his support for Islam, to cool off the outrage and in 1998 the Iranian government declared that it would no longer support the fatwa against Rushdie.
In 2012, Salman Rushdie published ‘Joseph Anton: A Memoir’, an autobiographical account, written in third-person, of his life in seclusion after the fatwa. The book was named as such to hide his identity.
Return to Public Life
Even while he was sitting at the center of a gruesome controversy, and the world was shouting in his ears, Salman Rushdie continued to write novels like Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990); The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995); and other short stories. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, he said, “I told myself quite firmly, Just go on being the writer you’ve always been.” when asked about how the fatwa affected his work.
After returning to the life of normalcy (excluding the occasional threats that he continued to receive for a long time), he went on to publish some commendable works like The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) and Fury (2001). Shalimar the Clown (2005), an account of terrorism in the disputed Kashmir region of India, and The Enchantress of Florence (2008), and many other highly acclaimed pieces of literature.
Did you know? Salman Rushdie has been awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to literature in Queen’s Birthday Honours on 16 June 2007 which sparked outrage among the Iranian government and Pakistan’s parliament.
Salman Rushdie: Honors and Accolades
A Fellow of the British Royal Society of Literature, Salman Rushdie has received, many honours and awards in his lifetime:
- The Whitbread Prize for Best Novel (twice)
- The Writers’ Guild Award
- The James Tait Black Prize
- The European Union’s Aristeion Prize for Literature
- Author of the Year Prizes in both Britain and Germany
- The French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger
- The Budapest Grand Prize for Literature
- The Premio Grinzane Cavour, Italy
- The Crossword Book Award, India
- The Austrian State Prize for European Literature
- The London International Writers’ Award
- The James Joyce award of University College, Dublin
- The St Louis Literary Prize
- The Carl Sandburg Prize of the Chicago Public Library
- U.S. National Arts Award
- Commandeur dans l’ Ordre des Arts et des Lettres – France’s highest artistic honour.
Salman Rushdie has remained a controversial figure throughout his career, yet he has managed to strive for excellence with every piece of his work. He continues to advocate relentlessly for freedom of speech and expression; and was a frequent critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. His life is the classic case of the author becoming larger than life. Hope you liked this blog, inside the life of a modern 20th-century novelist and essayist. For more stories on the lives of influential figures, check out our blogs at Leverage Edu!