Salman speaks

By PETER KADZIS  |  June 21, 2007

What did it feel like when you found out that The Satanic Verses was being burned in England?
Well, all I can say is, it was the most shocking moment of my life. And I think the moment when I actually saw television images and, afterwards, photographs of my book being burned was the moment that engendered in me the kind of fury that I can't remember otherwise feeling. This was, after all, a month before Khomeini imposed the fatwa. And in that month, what I did was to more or less go on the warpath and try to make sure that this act was seen as ― I can't think of a word other than barbaric. I also wanted to make sure that I was fighting this with all my strength. And then, a month later, there was the escalation from Iran, which changed the argument again.

Artists and performers long for fame. What's your reaction to being perhaps the most famous writer in the world?
Well, I don't know. The main reaction is one of disappointment. It's a terrible thing to be famous for the wrong thing. I'd always hoped that people would respond to and like my work, and that's all I'd ever wanted, really ― to write books that did well and that were well thought of. I'd begun to do that with Midnight's Children and Shame. It's easy to overlook this now, but they were books which had quite a considerable international reputation. The road I was going along was the only life I'd ever wanted, and I was delighted that I was beginning to have it. And to have this other reputation hasn't at all been beneficial to me as a writer. I think in many ways, for people who didn't know my writing or don't know my writing, it's often been something that put them off because they felt that this dark, theological cloud that descended over my work must in some way be representative of the work itself. And, I think, it made them think I must be an arcane writer, with these dark, theological inclinations. And I think it made a lot of people less likely to pick up a book by me as well as, of course, making some people more likely, even if only out of curiosity.

How much energy did it take to keep going in those days?
It took a lot. It was terribly bewildering. I had to find my feet again. I had to learn how to fight back. I had to find the strength to get back to writing, and I had to then set about the task of going on being a writer in fairly difficult circumstances. But you discover things about yourself under extreme pressure, and I guess one of the things I discovered about myself was that I was able to find that equilibrium again, and I was able to find ways of fighting back, and I was able to go on with my work. So I guess I'm tougher than I thought.

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