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Rushdie: New book out from under shadow of fatwa


...parallels between his book and his own life
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...being constantly asked about the fatwa
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...the risks still existing in his life
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...writing about rock 'n' roll
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CNN's Jonathan Mann talks to Salman Rushdie about his new novel
Windows Media 28K 80K

April 15, 1999

Web posted on: Thursday, April 15, 1999 6:32:35 PM

NEW YORK (CNN) -- British author Salman Rushdie says it gives him pleasure to see his latest work "managing to make its way on its own terms" rather than being tied to the death threat that dogged him for years.

"... What happens with each successive book is that people look less and less at those events," he said in an interview with CNN's Jonathan Mann about his latest novel, "The Ground Beneath Her Feet."

"The critical reception for this book barely mentions the fatwa, and I think that the book itself, because it's from a completely different world than the world of the fatwa -- because it's about rock 'n' roll music, it's about New York, it's about the crossover cultures between the east and the west -- I think the book is managing to make its way on its own terms."

The Indian-born novelist is still getting used to a more visible life. In 1989, Iran's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a death edict against Rushdie for allegedly blaspheming Islam in the book "The Satanic Verses."

Khomeini died soon afterward, but Rushdie went into hiding for nearly a decade. It wasn't until last September that Tehran disassociated itself from Khomeini's edict, as part of a deal aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations with Britain.

But is Rushdie still in danger?

"I think there still is some risk, yeah," he said, "though it appears that the major threat is no longer posed by the Iranian government." But since Iran has a splintered government, "there are clearly elements ... which don't necessarily buy the deal the government's done, so we have to be careful about that. But in my view it's not comparable" to the years when he had to live under the shadow of "state-sponsored terror."

Appearing in New York to promote his book is something that's both new and enjoyable. "It's very nice to be able to preannounce and come without some kind of a surprise. So, yes, normal service is being resumed," Rushdie told a gathering of nearly a thousand admirers in downtown Manhattan.


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He showed up without a formerly characteristic droop to his eyelids. Last month, he underwent surgery to correct a tendon condition that had made it increasingly difficult for him to open his eyes.

"If I hadn't had an operation, in a couple of years from now I wouldn't have been able to open my eyes at all," he has said.

So what's his new book about?

"It's a novel of our age, I think," Rushdie has said. " It has a life span of, roughly speaking, my own consciousness; it tries to be an everything novel. To make that huge act of pulling-together work I needed a vehicle which easily crossed frontiers. That's why the music in the novel is not classical music; its the music that I grew up with -- that grew up with me. It's the music of our time, mainly rock music."

Why that music, and why that culture?

"I wanted the music that everybody believes is their own," Rushdie said. "In the '50s, listening to Elvis and others on the radio in Bombay -- it didn't feel alien. Noises made by a truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi, seemed relevant to a middle-class kid growing up on the other side of the world. That has always fascinated me."

Rushdie also wrote lyrics for the book, which has had some interesting results. "If you're going to claim that this is a real band, and a very good band, the biggest gamble is to say 'Here are the lyrics!' But there's been an extraordinary development -- I sent the book to my friend Bono, of U2, and asked him what he thought. Lo and behold, he's written a couple of melodies. He said he thought one of them was one of the most beautiful songs they'd every written."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Salman Rushdie Web site
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