‘I hope Rushdie now appeals to new target groups’


Salman RushdiePicture JOEL SAGET / AFP

As a journalist, how did you experience the first hours after the attack?

“I was frozen. How is it possible that something like this is still happening after 33 years? The fatwa was no longer supported after 10 years, but new sums of money were always offered on his life. Yet you no longer expect that, at some point, where Rushdie had pretty much got his life back.

As a journalist, you also take on death with a cold hand, and you know: There is work to be done. You immediately check: what do I know about Rushdie? What can I write about him? I opened his autobiography and it turned out to contain two dried four-leaf clovers. It is a thick book, suitable for drying flowers, but I thought it was very beautiful. I was flipping through the book and just thinking, can he do it, can he do it.”

The new updates are hopeful. He is on a ventilator and is available.

“It’s a relief, today’s news. Rushdie enters joseph anton, I have now re-read how, after Princess Diana’s accident in 1997, he tells his then-wife: ‘The fact that they don’t say how she is, means she is dead.’ Rushdie got a status update, he had surgery. It was already encouraging, but I also had the attack on Peter R. de Vries in the back of my mind. A status update doesn’t necessarily mean it ends well.

And the news that he is probably losing his eye now is cruel. Rushdie suffered from ptosis, where the muscle in his upper eyelids no longer functioned properly, causing them to droop to the point where his vision deteriorated. He got an eye lift. In his autobiography, he describes how he recovers from the operation. He has bandages around his eyes, thinks for a moment that he has gone blind. And then I think he has now woken up again. He has woken up in a scene he has experienced and described before – with a less happy ending.”

Because of the threats, his writing has almost been underexposed. How good it is The Devil’s Verse actually?

The Satanic Verses is, like most of Rushdie’s novels, a great game of appearance and reality, myth, history and daily reality and abuse. His writing style is unique and flowery, he plays with language. If you like it and can keep up with the lesson, you will enjoy it at its best. But if you are not receptive to it – and that is not a bad thing at all – it can also become too much. I have always been an avid reader but thought after the first reviews of The Devil’s Verse, I was 21 at the time: I’m not starting that. But my grandmother told me: ‘Marjolijn, you must read this’. She had no school education, was self-taught. So I had to.”

And what did you think of it?

“I was hooked. I thought it was fantastic. As an unsuspecting reader at the time, I did not extract the political and religious conditions that caused the riot. For me it was one big sublimely written adventure. He never condemns Islam: he questions, he casts doubt and is uncertain. But as Rushdie himself notes, how many of the Muslims who are inciting against him will actually have read the book?”

You have read all his novels and autobiography. What is your favorite work?

“Two years after The Devil’s Verse – the publishers were no longer eager to publish his work – he succeeded with great difficulty in publishing a book that he had written for his first son Zafar: The Haro and the Sea of ​​Stories. It is my all time favorite book and I recommend it to everyone. The book shows the great storyteller that Rushdie is and that he was inspired by and by his father. He was an alcoholic and always arguing, but was also a gifted storyteller. In the book, he is Shah of Blais the Shah of Blabla, the source of all that can be told.”

Do you expect Rushdie’s books to sell more now?

“Interest has been revived, new Dutch reissues are coming. But it is difficult to predict. I am now going to re-read it all again, so I hope others have the same urge. His biography alone is fascinating. Joseph Anton was his British security pseudonym after the authors Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov – the man he had become and no longer wished to be. He takes revenge on the enemies he has made, for example his ex-wives. But he is also humble and often mercilessly witty. Such a shame that he is more famous for the persecution than for the greatness of his work.”

Wasn’t that pursuit also a big part of his writing?

“He has jumped from a cornered cat. In the first years after the fatwa, he declares that he is known as a Muslim because he thought that then it would be quiet. The claim was a big mistake, he writes, which he has also retracted. But he could not live with the massive security for the first ten years. He needed breath, he found it in New York. If you always assume the worst possible scenario, as the security services did, then you are not alive either. He no longer wanted to be held hostage by what he calls the “Gremlin of Fear”. He claimed his voice again. On scenes like Friday, where he talked about the persecution of writers. And in the novels he had to write for many years behind armored glass, with four armed security guards in the house and a safe upstairs. His writing is so amazing despite the persecution.”

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