10 Questions for Salman Rushdie

The author's new book, Luka and the Fire of Life, is out Nov. 16. Salman Rushdie will now take your questions

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Beowulf Sheehan / Pen American Center / Opale

How is your new novel different from your earlier work?

Eugene Hong, NORMAL, ILL.

It has a lot in common with [my first children's book,] Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The two are a kind of pair because they are the books that I wrote for my two sons. In that sense, they're different from all the others because they have this desire to talk to younger readers and not just to grownups.

The parent in Luka and Haroun is a teller of tales. Is it difficult for you as a writer to keep that fire and inspiration alive?


Every time you finish a book, you have a terrible feeling that there's just never going to be another one. But fortunately, so far, the next one has always shown up. I love to do it. I would do it if I weren't paid. I prefer to be paid.

Where does your distinct prose style come from?


I had to find it. The clues were the way in which people in Indian cities speak. The spoken language is very playful, and it mingles words from two or three languages. I had never really seen in a book a representation of that language. I wanted to find an English that felt like that polyglot speech.

It is often said that it's impossible to describe India in one word. Could you please try?


When I was writing Midnight's Children in the late '70s, I thought the thing [about India] that is unlike anywhere else is multitude--the sheer numbers of people. How do you represent that multitude? You tell a crowd of stories. You literally overcrowd your narrative, so that your main story has to push its way through.

You are working on a memoir. Is it harder to write about your life than to write fiction?

David Breyers, DETROIT

It's easier because you know the story. It's harder because you're dealing with living people. Questions of appropriateness and taste come in. I remember the great writer Rousseau, when he wrote his memoir Confessions, his philosophy was absolute truth all the time. If you upset people, you upset people. I think that's a good principle. If you don't tell the truth, why bother to write the book?

Which is worse: Having a fatwa placed upon you, or constantly being asked what it is like to live with a fatwa against you?


[Laughs.] It's close. No, clearly the [fatwa] itself is worse. But what was for me very worrying for a long time is that somehow the scale of that event was so large that people saw me as simply somebody in that news story, rather than a person who had been writing books for a long time and who had continued to do so.

If you could go back, would you have done things differently with The Satanic Verses?

Srina Ansella, JAKARTA

Nope. I'm perfectly happy with it. It's one of my better books. Books, in the end, are not defined by the people who don't like them. What happened to this book is that only the people who did not like it got to speak. Now it's the other way around.

If you could pick any two groups in the world and make them get along, which groups would it be and why?

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