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Author Spotlight: Salman Rushdie


When Salman Rushdie won the Booker Prize in 1981 for Midnight's Children he was additionally awarded the James Tait Black Prize as the  best Booker Prize winner over all the first 25 years. His latest novel, Shalimar the Clown: A Novel (Sept. Random House) is a powerful parable about the willing and unwilling subversion of multiculturalism, with perspectives on the greater issue of extremism and zealotism. Learn more about this important literary figure in BookBuffet's author spotlight.


September 26, 2005

A Life

Salman Rushdie was born in (Bombay) India 1947 into a middle class Muslum family.  His father was a Cambridge educated businessman, and his paternal grandfather an Urdu poet, which explains the wide use of fables and pre-Islamic Persion poetry in his first novel and since.       [Urdu Poetry Website]




He was sent to rugby school in England at the age of fourteen. His family reluctantly moved to Karachi, Pakistan as part of the exodus of Muslims during the partitioning of India. He went to Kings College Cambridge where he read History. His first job was in television after which he took up acting for ten years for the Kensington Theatre Group, followed by a copywrite position in advertising.


It was during this time that he wrote his first novel Grimus that was published in 1975. His second novel, Midnight's Children (1981) launched him into the literary firmament and won him many prizes. It took him five years each to write Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses.


His writing style is ripe with magical realism, a technique attributed to other authors, namely Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende. The concerns in his writings have ranged from migrant experiences to freedom of expression, religion and its relationship to popular culture and modern society, the role of the artist in society, the differences in cultures.


The Fatwa

At the publication of Satanic Verses, in 1988, Rushdie's transcription of the Quran is portrayed in an unconventional light and one of the novel's main characters is modeled on the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The work was considered blasphemous by the Ayatohllah Khomeini to the Muslim faith, and he issued a death order, or fatwa on his head with a reward of over 2.8 million dollars.  Book stores were firebombed, his publisher was attacked and injured, students were killed. He went into hiding for close to a decade, with British special forces guards regulating his every move.  It was devestating to his life and his second marriage. He kept a journal every day and much of that journal has entered into his 2005 novel, Shalimar the Clown.

After the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini and with his own public declaration of contrition in 1990 Rushdie published an essay In Good Faith to appease his critics, and issued an apology in which he reaffirmed his respect for Islam. However, Iranian clerics did not repudiate their death threat.

Since the religious decree, Rushdie shunned publicity, hiding from assassins, but he continued to write and publish books.(The ban could not be lifted as in Muslim belief only the issuer may rescind the fatwa.) So Rushdie remains at risk from extreme fundamentalists who may even today be holding fast to the strict interpretation -- although the award is substantially less, and in Rushdie's own words, likely represents more saber rattling than threat.


Somewhat famously Rushdie has been married four times and his current wife is the beautiful model Padma Lakshmi.


Writing Influences

Among the writers Rushdie has mentioned as having influenced him are Gunter Grass and Mikhail Bulgakov.



Selected Works

Awards & Distinctions

  • Booker Prize for Midnight's Children in 1981
  • Whitbread Award for Satanic Verses in 1988
  • James Tait Prize for Midnight's Children  in 1993
  • English Speaking Union Literary Award for Midnight's Children
  • Booker of Bookers Prize for Midnight's Children in 1993
  • Writers' Guild Award for Haroun and the Sea of Stories in 1990
  • Germany's Author of the Year in 1989
  • Honorary Professor in Humanities at MIT
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
  • Commandeur in France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettre


Little Known Facts

Salman Rushdie asked U2's Bono to proof read the manuscript of his sixth novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Picador 2000)—a riff on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in the high-octane world of rock & roll—who then turned it into the titular song inspired by the story.

Midnight's Children took its title from Nehru's speech delivered at the stroke of midnight, 14 August 1947, as India gained its independence from England.

If you are new to BookBuffet and register your book group today - send us an email with your book groups's name and the date you registered and the first two responder will recieve a copy each of Shalimar the Clown: A Novel compliments of Random House Canada.

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