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Salman Rushdie – Lioness at Large

Salman Rushdie

(* 1947)

Salman RushdieBiographical Sketch

Sir Ahmad Salman Rushdie, (Kt.) FRSL (Kashmiri: अहमद सलमान रुशदी (Devanagari), احمد سلمان رشدی (Nastaʿlīq); born Bombay [Mumbai], India, June 19, 1947) is a British Indian novelist and essayist. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He combines magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilizations.

His second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Prize in 1981 and was named the “Booker of Bookers” (i.e., the foremost of all Booker Prize-winning novels) in 1993, on the occasion of the Booker Prize’s 25th anniversary, as well as The Best of the Bookers, by popular vote, in 2008. It follows the life of a child, born at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence, who is endowed with special powers and a connection to other children born at the dawn of a new and tumultuous age in the history of the Indian sub-continent and the birth of the modern nation of India.

After Midnight’s Children, Rushdie wrote Shame (1983), in which he depicts the political turmoil in Pakistan, basing his characters on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Shame won France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book) and was a close runner-up for the Booker Prize.

His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the subject of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwā calling for his assassination issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989. The British government put Rushdie under protection of the British Special Branch police force, which was maintained for 13 years until 2002.  During that time, he lived at various undisclosed locations (mostly in the Greater London area) and, at the urging of Special Branch, assumed the pseudonym Joseph Anton (derived from the names of two of his favorite authors, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov). Hardliners in Iran have continued to reaffirm the death sentence; and although Rushdie now no longer lives in hiding, he has reported that he still receives a Valentine’s card of sorts from Iran each year on February 14, letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him. Several assassination plots and attempts made against him in recent years have failed.

Rushdie has quietly mentored younger Indian (and ethnic-Indian) writers, influenced an entire generation of Indo-Anglian writers, and is an influential writer in postcolonial literature in general. In 1983 Rushdie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the UK’s senior literary organisation. He has received many plaudits for his writings, including the European Union’s Aristeion Prize for Literature, the Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy), the Writer of the Year Award in Germany and many of literature’s other highest honours. He was appointed Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France in January 1999, was the President of the PEN American Center from 2004 to 2006 and is the founder of the PEN World Voices Festival. In June 2007, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his services to literature. In 2008, The Times ranked him thirteenth on its list of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945.

Since 2000, Rushdie has lived in the United States, where he has worked at Emory University. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2012, he published Joseph Anton: A Memoir, an account of his life in the wake of the controversy over The Satanic Verses. The sense of imprisonment brought on by his involuntary concealment had already inspired the framework setting of his 1995 novel The Moor’s Last Sigh, written while he was still living in hiding and fashioned in the style of the memoir and family chronicle of an Indian-born man – the eponymous “Moor” – facing his imminent death.

Read more about Salman Rushdie on Wikipedia.


Major Awards and Honors

Titles of the British Empire
  • 2007: Knighthood (Knight Bachelor)
Royal Society of Literature
  • 1983: Fellow
Booker Prize for Fiction
  • 1981: “Midnight’s Children”
  • 1993: Booker of Bookers – “Midnight’s Children”
  • 2008: The Best of the Bookers – “Midnight’s Children”
British National Book Awards
  • 1996: UK Author of the Year – “The Moor’s Last Sigh”
Costa / Whitbread Awards (Great Britain)
  • 1988: Novel – “The Satanic Verses”
  • 1995: Novel – “The Moor’s Last Sigh”
British Arts Council
  • 1981: Writers’ Award  – “Midnight’s Children”
  • 1992: Literature Bursary Award
English Speaking Union Award (Great Britain)
  • 1981: “Midnight’s Children”
English PEN Centre
  • 2010: Golden Pen Award – A Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature
  • 2014: PEN Pinter Prize
Writers’ Guild of Great Britain
  • 1992: Best Children’s Book  – “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”
London International Writers Award
  • 2002
James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Scotland)
  • 1981: “Midnight’s Children”
    Tied with Paul Theroux (“The Mosquito Coast”)
University Philosophical Society /
Trinity College, Dublin (Ireland)
  • 2004: Honorary Patron
Literary and Historical Society /
University College, Dublin (Ireland)
  • 2008: James Joyce Award
American Humanist Association (AHA) /
Harvard University
  • 2007: Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Humanism
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • 1993: Honorary Professorship
American Library Association (ALA)
  • 2012: Booklist Editors’ Choice Award: Biography – “Joseph Anton”
India Abroad Magazine (USA)
  • 2006: Lifetime Achievement Award
Crossword Book Award (India)
  • 2005: English Fiction – “Shalimar the Clown”
European Union
  • 1996: Aristeion Prize – “The Moor’s Last Sigh”
    Joint award with Christoph Ransmayr (“Morbus Kitahara”)
Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)
  • 1999: Commandeur de l’Ordre
Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (France)
  • 1984: Novel – “Shame”
Autor des Jahres
(German Booksellers’ Author of the Year)
  • 1989: “The Satanic Verses”
Hans Christian Andersen Award (Denmark)
  • 2014
Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy)
  • 2006: Premio Speciale 25 anni
Prix Colette (Switzerland)
  • 1993: “The Satanic Verses”
Austrian State Prize for European Literature
  • 1992
PEN Kurt Tucholsky Prize (Sweden)
  • 1992



  • Grimus (1975)
  • Midnight’s Children (1981)
  • Shame (1983)
  • The Satanic Verses (1988)
  • The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995)
  • The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
  • Fury (2001)
  • Shalimar the Clown (2005)
  • The Enchantress of Florence (2008)
  • Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015)
  • The Golden House (2017)
  • Quichotte (2019)
Short Fiction
  • East, West (1994)
  • Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing 1947 – 1997 (1997)
    – Editor, with Elizabeth West.
  • The Best American Short Stories (2008)
    – Guest Editor.
Children’s books
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990)
  • Luka and the Fire of Life (2010)
Memoirs, Essays, and nonfiction
  • The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987)
  • “In Good Faith”, Granta (1990)
  • Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981 – 1991 (1992)
  • Homeless by Choice (1992)
    – With R. Jhabvala and V. S. Naipaul.
  • The Wizard of Oz: BFI Film Classic (1992)
  • Mohandas Gandhi (1998)
    – Published in Time magazine, April 13, 1998.
  • Imagine There Is No Heaven (1999)
    – Published in The Guardian, October 16, 1999; extracted contribution from Letters to the Six Billionth World Citizen (Uitgeverij Podium, Amsterdam, Netherlands, with UN sponsorship).
  • Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992 – 2002 (2002)
  • A Fine Pickle (2009)
    – Published in The Guardian, February 28, 2009.
  • In the South (2012)
    – Published in Booktrack, February 7, 2012.
  • Joseph Anton: A Memoir (2012)
  • Languages of Truth: Essays 2003 – 2020 (2021)


A Selection of Quotes

The Satanic Verses

“Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.”

“From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.”

“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.”

Midnight’s Children

“Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.”

“What’s real and what’s true aren’t necessarily the same.”

“‎No people whose word for ‘yesterday’ is the same as their word for ‘tomorrow’ can be said to have a firm grip on the time.”


“Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type. Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence.”

“A man who catches History’s eye is thereafter bound to a mistress from whom he will never escape.”

“Repression is a seamless garment; a society which is authoritarian in its social and sexual codes, which crushes its women beneath the intolerable burdens of honour and propriety, breeds repressions of other kinds as well.”

The Moor’s Last Sigh

“Abraham Zogoiby covered his face that night in August 1939 because he had been assailed by fear, […] a sudden apprehension that the ugliness of life might defeat its beauty; that love did not make lovers invulnerable. Nevertheless, he thought, even if the world’s beauty and love were on the edge of destruction, theirs would still be the only side to be on; defeated love would still be love, hate’s victory would not make it other than it was.”

The Ground Beneath Her Feet

“The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step outside the frame.”

Joseph Anton: A Memoir

“When a book leaves it’s author’s desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator’s have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, reads them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it.”

“Nobody ever wanted to go to war, but if a war came your way, it might as well be the right war, about the most important things in the world, and you might as well, if you were going to fight it, be called “Rushdie,” and stand where your father had placed you, in the tradition of the grand Aristotelian, Averroës, Abul Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd.”

“This was what book reviewing did.  If you loved a book, the author thought your praise no more than his rightful due, and if you didn’t like it, you made enemies.  He decided to stop doing it.  It was a mug’s game.”

“This was the literature he knew, had always known.  Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be.  Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility, to make the world feel larger, wider, than before.  Yet this was an age in which men and women were being pushed toward ever-narrower definitions of themselves, encouraged to call themselves just one thing, Serb or Croat or Israeli or Palestinian or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Baha’i or Jew, and the narrower their identities became the greater was the likelihood of conflict between them.  Literature’s view of human nature encouraged understanding, sympathy, and identification with people not like oneself, but the world was pushing everyone in the opposite direction, towards narrowness, bigotry, tribalism, cultism and war.  There were plenty of people who didn’t want the universe opened, who would, in fact, prefer it to be shut down quite a bit, and so when artists went to the frontier and pushed they often found powerful forces pushing back.  And yet they did what they had to do, even at the price of their own ease, and, sometimes of their lives.”

Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

“Go for broke. Always try and do too much. Dispense with safety nets. Take a deep breath before you begin talking. Aim for the stars. Keep grinning. Be bloody-minded. Argue with the world. And never forget that writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things – childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves – that go on slipping, like sand, through our fingers.”

Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002

“The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women’s rights, pluralism, secularism, short skits, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. There are tyrants, not Muslims.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a no brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: um, I’m against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the preceding list – yes, even the short skirts and the dancing – are worth dying for?
The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.
How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”

“I want to suggest to you that citizens of free societies, democracies, do not preserve their freedom by pussyfooting around their fellow-citizen’s opinions, even their most cherished beliefs. In free societies, you must have the free play of ideas. There must be argument, and it must be impassioned and untrammeled. A free society is not calm and eventless place – that is the kind of static, dead society dictators try to create. Free societies are dynamic, noisy, turbulent, and full of radical disagreements. Skepticism and freedom are indissolubly linked; and it is the skepticism of journalists, their show-me, prove-it unwillingness to be impressed, that is perhaps their most important contribution to the freedom of the free world. It is the disrespect of journalists – for power, for orthodoxies, for party lines, for ideologies, for vanity, for arrogance, for folly, for pretension, for corruption, for stupidity, maybe even for editors – that I would like to celebrate … and that I urge you all, in freedom’s name, to preserve.”

1,000 Days ‘Trapped Inside a Metaphor’ (Columbia University / The New York Times, December 12, 1991)

“[H]as it really been so long since religions persecuted people, burning them as heretics, drowning them as witches, that you can’t recognize religious persecution when you see it?”

“Don’t let the zealots make Muslim a terrifying word.”

“Our lives teach us who we are.” I have learned the hard way that when you permit anyone else’s description of reality to supplant your own … then you might as well be dead.”

“Obviously, a rigid, blinkered, absolutist world view is the easiest to keep hold of, whereas the fluid, uncertain, metamorphic picture I’ve always carried about is rather more vulnerable. Yet I must cling with all my might to … my own soul; must hold on to its mischievous, iconoclastic, out-of-step clown-instincts, no matter how great the storm. And if that plunges me into contradiction and paradox, so be it; I’ve lived in that messy ocean all my life. I’ve fished in it for my art. This turbulent sea was the sea outside my bedroom window in Bombay. It is the sea by which I was born, and which I carry within me wherever I go.”

Books vs. Goons (L.A. Times, April 24, 2005)

“When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced.”

Discussion at Woodruff Auditorium in Lawrence, KS (October 7, 2005)

“Do not start me on The Da Vinci Code … a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name.”

Outside The Whale (Granta, 1984)

“It matters, it always matters, to name rubbish as rubbish … to do otherwise is to legitimize it.”

Don’t allow religious hooligans to dictate terms (The Times of India, January 16, 2008)

“Two things form the bedrock of any open society – freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country.”

Interview, The Hindu (2012)

“A question I have often asked is, ‘What would an inoffensive political cartoon look like?’ What would a respectful cartoon look like? The form requires disrespect and so if we are going to have in the world things like cartoons and satire, we just have to accept it as part of the price of freedom.”

Interview with Bill Moyers (Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason, June 23, 2006)

“What kind of God is it who’s upset by a cartoon in Danish?”

I Stand With Charlie Hebdo, as We All Must (Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2015)

“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

Defend the right to be offended (openDemocracy, February 7, 2005)

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

As quoted in The right to be downright offensive (Jonathan Duffy, BBC News Magazine,  December 21, 2004)

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”


“In the end, you write the book that grabs you by the throat and demands to be written.”

Find more quotes by Salman Rushdie on Wikiquote and Goodreads.