Salman Rushdie is a British-Indian novelist and writer, author of ten novels including Midnight’s Children (Booker Prize, 1981) and Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.
The publication of his fourth novel "The Satanic Verses" in 1988 led to violent protests in the Muslim world for its depiction of the prophet Mohammad. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a death fatwa against Rushdie, which sent him into hiding for nearly a decade. Rushdie weathered countless death threats and many assassination attempts.
In June 2007, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. In 2008 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named a Library Lion of the New York Public Library. In addition, "Midnight’s Children" was named the Best of the Booker—the best prize-winner in the award’s 40 year history—by a public vote. In 2008, The Times of London ranked Rushdie thirteenth on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945."
Question: How difficult is it to watch your friend Christopher Hitchens’s very public battle with cancer?
Salman Rushdie: You know, you start losing people and people start getting seriously sick. And I mean I had a moment about a decade ago, just over 10 years ago, where when we were all around 50 where 3 people that I was very close to, 3 writers—Raymond Carver, Bruce Chatwin, Angela Carter—all, give or take a year, around 50 years old—50, 51, 52 years old—all dropped dead within a year of each other and that felt like... It feels like a hole in the world when somebody that has been an important part of your life, of your own being in the world suddenly there is just an absence where there used to be a presence. And of course one of the things you lose—I wrote about this when Angela died—is that you lose a version of yourself. You lose yourself as that person saw you and responded to you.
I think the great thing and one of the things and what Christopher Hitchens is doing, I think, magnificently demonstrates is that you have to live until you die. And that is great phrase from Joseph Conrad from the now improperly titled "Nigger of the Narcissus," where the title character is extremely ill and obviously dying on a boat and his shipmates ask him, “Why did you come on the boat? You must have known you were not well. Why did you come on the boat when you knew that you were seriously ill?" And he says this famous line. He says, “I must live until I die, mustn’t I?” And I think that is the answer to being human, is that we all... it’s going to come to all of us, but the point is to use the time you have. And I think that is what Christopher is doing in the most laudable way. He is making this heroic effort to live, to continue to be himself, to argue, to write, to debate, to speak, to speak out if you like and to continue to be himself in the world and I think that is all any of us can do.
Recorded November 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler