Salman speaks

By PETER KADZIS  |  June 21, 2007

In general or regarding yourself.
Regarding myself, it depends on my mood. [Laughs] But I think actually there are certain things about me that just inescapably, 100 percent, will always be Indian. That's to say, that's what I racially and ethnically am. And yet, much of my life has been spent away from India. And certainly at this moment, having spent a great deal of my life trying to understand and write about the world from which I came originally, I find myself turning away from that, feeling that I've done enough, if you like, or enough for the moment -- and I find myself more and more interested in the world to which I came, about which I first wrote in The Satanic Verses. That's the aspect of The Satanic Verses that really got blotted out by the storm that surrounded that book.

One critic pointed out that The Satanic Verses is a book in which a novelist named Salman moves not only westward, but also increasingly inward, searching for yet another way to describe a world that is increasingly connected, but in no way yet whole.
It's not at all a bad description of the way that I felt at the time that I wrote The Satanic Verses. I felt that I'd written one novel, broadly speaking, about India [Midnight's Children] and one novel, broadly speaking, about a kind of version of Pakistan [Shame, published in 1983], and I thought it was time that my writing made the same movement that I'd made ― that's to say, migrate into the West. And I felt, first of all, that I wanted to write a novel about the act of migration and, secondly, a novel about the internal effect of migration. It's so ridiculous in light of what happened, but I did think about The Satanic Verses that it was the least political novel I'd ever written. I thought it was a novel of introspection and a novel which tried to make sense of the kind of life experience that people like me had had. And then, boom. It turned into the most public novel I'd ever written.

In a time when so many people seem to doubt the potency of literature, did this experience scare you? What was it like to find out that fiction could matter so much?
Well, of course, it was an extraordinary discovery that it should be my book that ended up mattering so much. Particularly when it was written as an introspective book, not as a book designed to shake the world. I suppose Uncle Tom's Cabin was designed to have a certain public impact and did have it. But in this case, it really caught me unawares. But I do think that, as somebody once said, you can judge the importance of literature by the apparatus that tyrants set up to repress it. And the more repressive the society that exists in the world, the more tightly literature is censored and the more danger writers are in. I was in the unusual position of living in a free country and being attacked across the world from a much more censorious and closed society, but it happens to writers around the world all the time. And in that sense, what happened to me is not unusual at all.

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