Rushdie relives magic of 'Midnight's Children'

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 21, 2013 at 9:34 pm •  Published: April 21, 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) — Thanks to the printed word and the moving image, Salman Rushdie has recaptured the worst part of his life and relived one of the best.

Last fall, the 65-year-old author published the best-selling memoir "Joseph Anton" about his years in hiding that followed the 1988 publication of "The Satanic Verses" and the call for his death by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Rushdie is now promoting the film adaptation of his breakthrough novel, "Midnight's Children," winner of the Booker Prize in 1981 and one of the most highly praised works of fiction of its time.

"It was cathartic to write 'Joseph Anton,'" Rushdie explained during a recent interview, wearing a gray suit and no tie, sipping coffee at a hotel rooftop garden in midtown Manhattan. "And 'Midnight's Children' was the book where I really became a writer."

Much of the world only learned about Rushdie after "Satanic Verses," which was condemned by the Ayatollah and others as blasphemous and made him an author far more talked about than read. Forced to live under an assumed name, Joseph Anton, he felt as if he had lost control of his own life's narrative. In his memoir, he turns himself into a kind of literary character, referring to himself in the third person, and uses narrative to get his own back.

"Now that time belongs to me," he said. "It's not just something that happened to me."

In the literary community, Rushdie's had long been an honored name because of "Midnight's Children." More than 500 pages, it's a multi-layered narrative about Saleem Sinai, a child born at the very moment of India's independence from Britain, and his terrifying, exhilarating and fantastic adventures that join his story to the story of his country. Widely regarded as a landmark of neo-colonial fiction, the novel follows Saleem through India's independence and internal conflict, war with Pakistan and the 1970s "State of Emergency" declared by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It is a journey with a beginning, middle and end, but also one with countless detours and special effects, from powers of mind-reading to a nose with the most profound sense of smell.

"Midnight's Children" was a coming-of-age story for Saleem, and for Rushdie. Born in India, he had spent much of his 20s working in advertising in London and writing fiction he came to regard as "unbearable amounts of garbage." His first book, "Grimus," was a fantasy novel that came out in 1975 and was quickly forgotten (Rushdie has long preferred it remain so). Rushdie then thought he might try a novel about childhood. The author had been born eight weeks after India's independence and he soon realized the genius of making his character arrive at the moment itself. He "stumbled around" at first, trying to write in the third person, when he decided to let Saleem speak for himself.

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