He is the contradiction of his own statement. Salman Rushdie at the Hay Festival in Wales is still "joking" about a two-decade-old fatwa. Yet, he maintains:
"The reason why books endure is because there are enough people who like them. It's the only reason why books last. It's the people who love books that make them last, not the people who attack them."
Of course, people have got to love books, but can he deny the role of marketing, of notoriety, of the last temptation of chastisement? How often do we hear him speak about 'Shame', 'The Moor's Last Sigh', 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories', or even 'Midnight's Children'? The last he has been talking about recently because of the Deepa Mehta directed film version that's ready for release.
What makes books endure? Can people from diverse backgrounds love a work with equal fervour? How do we describe such 'literary love'? Is it always about liking a book or liking the idea of being part of an appreciative group? Many books that are considered classics today were panned when they were first published. Readers ignored them in the stores. They lay in the dungeon rusting. When did love happen to them and why?
Rebirth was planned with surgical precision, except for the very rare exception that relived due to their appeal to a newer readership. It takes some canny salesperson who understands words, but also figures out that attractive covers, blurbs, gimmicks, and flashy launches are the selling points to buy love. It really is akin to heart-shaped balloons and Hallmark cards to celebrate Valentine's Day. It is a celebration of love, but also a confirmation of commercial socially-sanctioned behavior. Reviews and word of mouth publicity are part of such acceptability, for how would diverse people experience the same feelings at around the same time?
There are books that make us uncomfortable, that we hate but cannot stop ourselves from reading. They endure in our hearts and minds. And then there are books that are not meant to. They are written for a specific timeframe, an event. Topicality is the key here. They are conceived for a short life. Do we love them less even if they do not endure?
It also depends on how they are sold. There are books on political leaders and pop stars that are written when they are in power, or going through a lean phase. They capitalise on momentary lust. Readers' lust with 'Satanic Verses' has been propped up by the author's obsession with the fatwa. He knows that this work has endured for reasons other than love for books.
When he says, ostensibly in jest, that he did not write "for the mullahs. I didn't think they were my target audience", he reveals a truth he denies: he wrote it for the anti mullahs. He did have that section of the reader in mind. As he said, "The only thing worse than a bad review from the Ayatollah Khomeini would be a good review from the Ayatollah Khomeini."
The bad review altered sales, from a hundred in a week, it sold 750,000 in a month. It became Viking's bestseller. So, the love was conditional. It has endured because of being a tantaliser, like many others, even if it is of silicone implants.
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(c) Farzana Versey