- The author’s first-person account of onstage stabbing is being described as “a searing book, and a reminder of the power of words to make sense of the unthinkable.”
At first, Salman Rushdie was hesitant about writing a book about the onstage attack on him at a literary event in Upstate New York last August. his onstage stabbing. It was as if “the attack demanded that I should write about the attack,” he told The New Yorker’s David Remnick in February this year. He eventually “warmed up” to the idea, Remnick wrote. The acclaimed author told the writer that he was envisioning his book “as a counterpart to ‘Joseph Anton,’ albeit with a very different perspective.” Rushdie continued: “I think when somebody sticks a knife into you, that’s a first-person story.”
That book — “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder” — will be published on April 16, publisher, Penguin Random House has announced. In a statement, Rushdie said the book is “a way to take charge of what happened and to answer violence with art.” Penguin Random House CEO Nihar Malaviya called it “a searing book, and a reminder of the power of words to make sense of the unthinkable,” according to the Associated Press. “We are honored to publish it, and amazed at Salman’s determination to tell his story, and to return to the work he loves.”
Rushdie was attacked onstage at the Chautauqua Institution, a summer arts community in New York, where he was scheduled to speak about the U.S. as a safe haven for exiled writers. As the event was about to begin, Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man jumped onstage and stabbed Rushdie repeatedly in the face and the abdomen before members of the audience pulled the assailant away. Matar, who has been charged with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault, has pleaded not guilty. Rushdie was gravely injured, placed temporarily on a ventilator and left blind in his right eye.
Born in India to a Muslim family, Rushdie has lived in Britain and the U.S. His father was a prosperous businessman in India. Rushdie was educated at Rugby School and the University of Cambridge, where he received an M.A. degree in history in 1968. Throughout most of the 1970s, he worked in London as an advertising copywriter, according to the Britannica profile.
His first novel, “Grimus,” was published in 1975. Rushdie’s next novel, “Midnight’s Children” (1981), a fable about modern India, “was an unexpected critical and popular success that won him international recognition,” Britannica said. A film adaptation, for which he drafted the screenplay, was released in 2012. Rushdie received the Booker Prize in 1981 for “Midnight’s Children,” which subsequently won the Booker of Bookers (1993) and the Best of the Booker (2008).
He spent about 10 years under police protection in Britain, living in hiding after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, called for his execution in 1989 because his novel “The Satanic Verses” was considered offensive to Islam. “The book was banned in India, and he was barred from the country for more than a decade,” The New York Times reported.
“Despite the standing death threat, Rushdie continued to write,” Britannica said. The books include “Imaginary Homelands (1991),” a collection of essays and criticism; the children’s novel “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” (1990); the short-story collection “East, West” (1994); and the novel “The Moor’s Last Sigh” (1995).
After nearly a decade, when the Iranian government announced in 1998, that it would no longer seek to enforce its fatwa against Rushdie, he recounted his experience in the third-person memoir “Joseph Anton” (2012). The book’s title refers to an alias he adopted while in seclusion. He also became an active public figure in New York and a proponent of free speech, serving for a time as president of PEN America, an organization devoted to freedom of expression.
Following his return to public life, he published several novels including “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” (1999) and “Fury” (2001), “Shalimar the Clown” (2005), and “Don Quichotte” (2019), among others.
He was knighted in 2007, “an honor criticized by the Iranian government and Pakistan’s parliament,” the Britannica profile said. He became an American citizen in 2016.
(Top photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Penguin)