Hunted by An Angry Faith

Salman Rushdie's novel cracks open a fault line between East and West

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For much of the past two months, Salman Rushdie has been defending himself and his book. "The thing that is most disturbing is that they are talking about a book that doesn't exist," he said. "The book that is worth killing people for and burning flags for is not the book I wrote." As Rushdie saw it, his book "isn't actually about Islam, but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and Bombay." The sad irony, he said, is "that after working for five years to give voice and fictional flesh to the immigrant culture of which I am myself a member, I should see my book burned, largely unread, by the people it's about -- people who might find some pleasure and much recognition in its pages."

As the week ended, Rushdie was under police guard somewhere in England, doubtless reflecting on the magical if sinister power that his words had acquired and getting acquainted with yet another place of refuge. It was a situation that he must have understood very well. As he wrote in his first novel, Grimus, more than a decade ago, "It is the natural condition of the exile, putting down roots in memory."

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