In 1981, Salman Rushdie’s second novel, Midnight’s Children, with its focus on Partition won a Booker Prize. And now, more than four decades later, his new novel Quichotte, due for release this September, has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2019. But this time, his book is a take-off on Don Quixote, immortalised by sixteenth century Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes and often labelled as “the first modern novel”.
Midnight’s Children was given not just a Booker Prize but also a “Booker of the Bookers” Prize (1993) with its story set around the Partition of India and steeped in magical realism. His fourth book Satanic Verses (1988) was a finalist for the Booker Prize. However, a ‘fatwa’ was issued against his book calling for Salman Rushdie’s death by no less than Ayatollah Khomeini one year after it was published. India had banned the book as “hate speech” against a particular religious group.
Salman Rushdie and his controversial 1988 novel The Satanic Verses have ignited a series of fresh zealous discussions in Pakistan, a country known for its love for conspiracy theories and controversies. We vividly remember books, such as The Satanic Verses and movies like The Innocence of Muslims that sparked violent protests in Pakistan, as well as in many other Islamic countries, where the Muslims insisted that the book and the movie had separately insulted Prophet Muhammad.
Pakistan’s stringent blasphemy laws recommend the death sentence for anyone who insults Muhammad.
In 1980s Arkansas, one concern trumped all others: Satan. He whispered backwards on our rock albums. He possessed otherwise good people’s bodies and brought them to sin. His worshippers — it was honestly believed and confidently proclaimed — lived among us.
So when my stepmother opened our town’s first bookstore I was amazed by one book in particular: an infernal red and black volume called The Satanic Verses.