Salman Rushdie: True Stories Don't Tell the Whole Truth

Novelist
The acclaimed author delved deeply into magic realism for his latest book. Here, he describes why this genre continues to thrive.
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TRANSCRIPT

Salman Rushdie: Stories don’t have to be true, you know. That by including elements of the fantastic or elements of fable or mythological elements or fairy tale or just pure make believe, you can actually start getting at the truth in a different way. It’s another door into the truth.

And that’s why I think the thing that is interesting about the phrase magic realism is if when it’s used, people tend only to hear the word magic. So they think it’s just about fantasy. But the word realism is as important and what this kind of writing tries to do is to be grounded in the real, to be grounded in an actual, quite strong vision of the real and then use techniques to express that vision which don’t necessarily have to be realistic.

The thing about magical realism — so called — is that it’s a newish name for a very old thing. And this particular name came into being in Latin America in the late 1950s and was used to describe a group of writers — [Jorges] Borges, [Gabriel] Garcia Marquez, [Mario] Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortazar, Alejo Carpentier and several others who used techniques which diverged from straightforward, naturalistic writing or they used elements of fantasy and dream and included those in the text of the story as if they had the same status as observable facts.

I’ve always been, as a writer from the very beginning, I was interested in this general area of fiction. I started out, you know, as a young person, long before I wrote anything I was very, very interested in science fiction and I read an enormous amount of science fiction in my teens and early 20s. And actually my first novel, Grimus, which was published more or less just over 40 years ago, was really in that area. It wasn’t science fiction, but it was fantasy fiction, you know. Because I think that that form, what might be better called speculative fiction, has always been a very good vehicle for the novel ideas. You know if you have ideas that you want to set in motion and interrogate and argue about, science fiction, fantasy fiction has always done that and always done it very, very well. So I always had that interest. So I mean that interest in that kind of genre fiction combined with my knowledge of Eastern fable and folktale and fairy tale, you know, and all of that went towards turning into the writer that I became.