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Salman Rushdie (Ahmed Salman Rushdie) Biography

(1947– ), (Ahmed Salman Rushdie), Midnight's Children, Grimus, The Conference of the Birds, Shame

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Anglo-Indian novelist, born in Bombay, educated at Rugby School, and King's College, Cambridge. He worked as an actor and as an advertising copywriter before taking up writing full-time after the great success of his second novel, Midnight's Children (1981; Booker Prize, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize). His first published novel, Grimus (1975), a fantasy inspired by a twelfth-century Sufi narrative poem, The Conference of the Birds (the ‘birds’ of the traditional fable transformed into a group of science fiction ‘illuminati’ conspiring to live forever), experiments in exuberant manner with the magic realism so prominent in his subsequent novels. Midnight's Children exploits complex narrative techniques of allegory, fable, fantasy, and textual self-consciousness, coupled with detailed realism in the depiction of personal relationships and certain key historical events, to illuminate what, in Rushdie's view, has gone wrong in India since Independence, particularly attacking the Nehru–Gandhi dynasty. Shame (1983) ruthlessly probes the state of Pakistan and the political manipulation of fundamentalist Islam by a military despot modelled on General Zia, who ruled at the time. Rushdie himself said about Shame in an interview that ‘in Pakistan the numbers of people who settle the fate of the nation are very small, so that it is a kind of domestic story about kitchen tyranny’. Both novels generated much controversy, and banning-orders, but it was The Satanic Verses (1988) which made the author an international cause célèbre. Following demonstrations in Britain against the book for alleged blasphemy, particularly by Islamic fundamentalists, Rushdie found himself the recipient of a death sentence pronounced by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, then ruler of Iran, and was forced into hiding under police protection. Yet, ironically, the novel, as Malcolm Bradbury has pointed out, ‘is surely less about Islam than about a time of racial despair and psychic conflict in a multi-ethnic age’. It is also about existential transformation, and perpetual change, with contemporary Britain as its focus, its model in this respect being Ovid's Metamorphoses. Rushdie's next novel, The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), tells, in the voice of a narrator of Christian and Jewish origin, the story of two centuries of a family's history, moving from India to Spain, and analysing in Rushdie's customary dense, rich, and erudite style, the problems of sectarian warfare that eternally recur in the pages of history, whether Eastern or Western. Other works by Rushdie include The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987) and Is Nothing Sacred? (1990), the text of his Herbert Read Memorial Lecture, which was delivered by Harold Pinter. Rushdie's first children's book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), is like an extended parable about the dangers and responsibilities of story-telling. Imaginary Homelands (1991) is a collection of Rushdie's essays, which also records his developing attitude towards Islam. See Lisa Appignanesi and Sara Maitland (eds), The Rushdie File (1989).

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