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À mon chevet: The Satanic Verses

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
On the shelf of Changez Chamchawala's teak-lined study, beside a ten-volume set of the Richard Burton translation of the Arabian Nights, which was being slowly devoured by mildew and book-worm owing to the deep-seated prejudice against books which led Changez to own thousands of the pernicious things in order to humiliate them by leaving them to rot unread, there stood a magic lamp, a brightly polished copper-and-brass avatar of Aladdin's very own genie-container: a lamp begging to be rubbed. But Changez neither rubbed it nor permitted it to be rubbed by, for example, his son. "One day," he assured the boy, "you'll have it for yourself. Then rub and rub as much as you like and see what doesn't come to you. Just now, but, it is mine." The promise of the magic lamp infected Master Salahuddin with the notion that one day his troubles would end and his innermost desires would be gratified, and all he had to do was wait it out; but then there was the incident of the wallet, when the magic of a rainbow had worked for him, not for his father but for him, and Changez Chamchawala had stolen the crock of gold. After that the son became convinced that his father would smother all his hopes unless he got away, and from that moment he became desperate to leave, to escape, to place oceans between the great man and himself.

-- Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, pp. 36-37
The coverage of Salman Rushdie's new book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir (next on my chevet), has been feverish. The new book, a memoir of the author's years of hiding from the Iranian fatwa over his excellent novel The Satanic Verses, is written as a novel, about Rushdie as a third-person character. Rushdie has said in more than one instance that, in the present climate of fear about the direction the Muslim world is taking, he does not think The Satanic Verses would see the light of day if he had written it now.


MWnyc said...

The Satanic Verses has become over the years such a symbol, such a cause célèbre (or cause infame for others), that people lose sight of what a terrific read it is. A truly brilliant book.

Charles T. Downey said...

Absolutely. The difference between the fury over it -- an artful and beautifully crafted work of fiction -- and the anger over that piece of garbage film, though -- it is odd that two such opposite works, in terms of their artistic quality, could produce such similar anger.

Rushdie's comments about the furor are important, too: "it’s a great political and intellectual event of our time, even a moral event. Not the fatwa, but the battle against radical Islam, of which this was one skirmish. There have been arguments made even by liberal-minded people, which seem to me very dangerous, which are basically cultural relativist arguments: We’ve got to let them do this because it’s their culture. My view is no."

MWnyc said...

The one thing that Rushdie's artful and beautifully crafted work of fiction and that piece of garbage film have in common is that almost none of the people furious about them have actually seen either.