Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: Midnight’s Diaspora


Midnight’s Diaspora: Encounters with Salman Rushdie
Ed. Daniel Herwitz and Ashutosh Varshney.
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi.
Pages 149. Rs 399.

Almost twenty years after the Ayatollah Khomeini declared a fatwa against him, Salman Rushdie remains the most controversial and perhaps the most famous living novelist. Far more than an acclaimed author, Rushdie is a global figure whose work is read and studied by a wide variety of constituencies, many of whom are not primarily concerned with its literary significance. This important collection of essays and interviews brings together a distinguished group of critics and commentators, including Rushdie himself, to explore the political and cultural contexts of Rushdie's novels. While each of the essays offers a distinct and often highly original take on Rushdie and his work, the two substantial interviews with Rushdie illuminate his thoughts on a series of literary and political subjects that he has for the most part been reluctant to discuss in public.
This combination of fresh perspectives and historical and political context will appeal to a wide array of readers interested not only in Rushdie's own work but also in the many collateral cultural and political issues it raises. Daniel Herwitz is Director, Institute for the Humanities; Professor of History of Art, Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Comparative Literature, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; and Professor of Art and Design, School of Art and Design, at the University of Michigan. Ashutosh Varshney is Professor of Political Science at the Brown University.

"The never-ending inventiveness of Salman Rushdie's mind and art makes this volume both a pleasure and a necessity. These distinguished scholars have done a fine job introducing Rushdie's work to a new generation of readers in a newcentury." ---Homi K. Bhahba, Harvard University "

This collection engages with the larger context of Rushdie's work to reflect on the urgent issues raised by Rushdie's novels and their afterlives. The essays are first rate, achieving accessibility without sacrificing rigor and depth and bringing a variety of disciplinary perspectives to offer a fresh understanding of Rushdie's writings. This is rare." Gyan Prakash, Princeton University

My name is Salman The Tribune
 Twenty years ago, as I left India to study literature at Cambridge, a fatwa was issued against an up-and-coming author that was to become an avid topic of dinner-time conversations for months to come. I was the new arrival from a country that had just banned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and was forced to take positions at all such discussions between sub-continent sentiments and literary forthrightness. I remember having put up a Rushdie poster on my study wall at that time, and clearly, I must have upset somebody because late one evening, a snowball smashed into my window pane. I am still not sure whether it was a racist attack or a moment of sport.

Taking stock of the situation after two decades, I think that Rushdie has emerged the more triumphant after the ordeal. Eight successful books later, we are able to assess his celebrity status—not least because of his notoriety in both hemispheres—in the course of two interviews and several essays collected together in this volume by its editors.  
Rushdie invites controversy. His every remark becomes fodder for the papparazzi not just as gossip or rumour but as significant political insight. His books, on their part, initiate mini revolutions owing to their author’s political boldness. When Rushdie, who had just won the Booker for Midnight’s Children, was invited to 10 Downing Street for a luncheon hosted for Indira Gandhi by Thatcher, he declined knowing fully well how Mrs Gandhi would react on seeing him when both she and her late son, Sanjay, were exposed in his novel for the roles they played during the Emergency.

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