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December 11, 2013

Of Fame and Fatwas

 Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz

By Steve King

On this day in 1911 the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was born. Despite a death sentence pronounced against him by Omar Abdul-Rahman, and nearly carried out in 1994, Mahfouz chronicled and questioned Egyptian society throughout his long life. He was given a state funeral when he died in 2006 – at which time Abdul-Rahman was a decade into his life sentence.

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June 27, 2013

South Africa: Clash of the Booker titans

SatanicWith freedom of expression under threat in South Africa again, Anton Harber recalls an electric confrontation between two Booker prize winners, JM Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, about the censorship of a third – Salman Rushdie.

It started on a Thursday midday, when the organiser of the Weekly Mail Book Week put the phone down, walked across the newsroom and interrupted me and my co-editor. “I think we might have a problem,” she said. It was October 1988 and the “problem” was Salman Rushdie, due to arrive a week later to headline the event. “He says his book has been banned in India, he is getting death threats,” she said. “I asked him what he wrote about and he said, ‘I ripped into the Qur’an’.”

Ours was a small, anti-apartheid newspaper, the Weekly Mail. Gail Berhmann was an artist who was organising our annual literary event, with Rushdie billed as this year’s star guest.

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May 24, 2013

Rushdie, Fagan, Gunn on James Tait Black shortlists

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

| By Charlotte Williams

Salman Rushdie and Jenni Fagan are among the authors shortlisted for the £10,000 James Tait Black biography and fiction awards. The shortlist for the newly created drama category is to be announced later this month.

Contenders for the fiction prize are Scottish author Fagan’s The Panopticon (Windmill Books), about a 15-year-old who finds herself headed for a home for chronic young offenders but can¹t remember why; The Big Music by Kirsty Gunn (Faber), about a dying man creating a musical composition that will define his life; Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (Granta), about a young American poet on a fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self; and The Deadman’s Pedal by Alan Warner (Vintage), about a 16-year-old who leaves school to become a train driver and is introduced to a world of glamour.

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10 Reasons Not to Be A Writer

Matt Haig

Matt Haig

By Matt Haig

I worry that sometimes in my blogs I have gone on a little bit too much about the wonders of being a writer, and so this time I’m giving the other side of the story.


Indeed, here are just the first ten reasons not to be jealous of writers.


1.     They have bad backs. Maybe not the debut writers, but by the time of their third or fourth novel, they can hardly walk. This is why Margaret Atwood has to be winched everywhere with the aid of a helicopter. It is why Salman Rushdie is eight inches shorter than he used to be. It is why Julian Barnes always clenches his jaw.


2.     They are depressed. Writers are miserable. Think of some of the saddest people in history – Woolf, Plath, Hemingway, Sexton, Poe, Tom Clancy – and ninety per cent of them are writers. They write because they are depressed. Even Dan Brown is depressed. Every single person you pass in the street has happier brain chemistry than Dan Brown. Probably. That’s why he has to hang upside down like Bruce Wayne between paragraphs. Possibly. And why he believes life is a kind of Countdown Conundrum designed by Dante or Da Vinci or albino priests. Possibly. And look, US website says that writing is one of the top 10 professions most likely to lead to depression. So be jealous of happier people, like undertakers and debt collectors. Being a writer is deciding to live your whole life as if it was soundtracked by Radiohead.

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February 2, 2013

Think of Bread in General: On Making Books Into Movies



By Alan Levinovitz

When Christopher Tolkien recently broke a 40-year public silence in Le Monde, he did not have kind words for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25, and it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”

Tolkien snubbed an invitation to meet with Jackson, and, as his father’s literary executor, he has sworn not to allow adaptations of material over which he has control (like The Silmarillion). Had it been his choice, Jackson’s blockbusters would likely never have been produced, and certainly not in their present form. But it wasn’t his choice. In 1969, United Artists made a prescient purchase from the elder Tolkien: £100,000 for full rights to movies and derived products for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And that was that.

The result, according to Christopher Tolkien, was nothing less than disastrous: “[J.R.R.] Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time. The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.”

Admirers of Jackson’s work may find such comments a touch melodramatic, if not downright inaccurate. Salman Rushdie, for instance, appears to favor the films over the originals: “Jackson’s cinematic style, sweeping, lyrical, by turns intimate and epic, is greatly preferable to Tolkien’s prose style, which veers alarmingly between windbaggery, archness, pomposity, and achieves something like humanity, and ordinary English, only in the parts about hobbits.”

Then again, there’s A.O. Scott on The Hobbit: “Tolkien’s inventive, episodic tale of a modest homebody on a dangerous journey has been turned into an overscale and plodding spectacle.”

Taste is a difficult thing to arbitrate, making debates like these fun but virtually irresolvable. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the participants all share a common assumption, which often remains unexamined. Rushdie puts it simply: “Everyone accepts that stories and movies are different things.” Indeed. But how, exactly? Is one a higher art form than the other? More illuminating? More demanding? Does one strengthen children’s brains while the other is more likely to rot them?

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December 13, 2012

Rushdie: Mo Yan is a “patsy of the regime”

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 10:52 am

rushdie_rect-460x307The Chinese laureate won’t sign a petition calling for Liu Xiabo’s freedom, earning a withering rebuke from Rushdie

By David Daley

Nobel Prize laureate Mo Yan — who has compared censorship to something as necessary as an airport security check and earned scorn from other writers for not being a staunch advocate of freedom of expression — came under criticism Thursday from Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie, who spent nearly a decade in hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini called for his death upon the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” expressed frustration on Facebook that Yan would not support fellow writers and free speech activists in calling for the freedom of Liu Xiabo, the 2010 Nobel Peace laureate. More than 130 other Nobel laureates have signed the petition, including Desmond Tutu.

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November 27, 2012

Books of the year 2012

From Zadie Smith’s new novel to Robert Macfarlane’s journeys on foot and memoirs by Edna O’Brien and Salman Rushdie…
Which books have most impressed our writers this year?


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October 11, 2012

Sir Salman Rushdie: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey makes Twilight look like War and Peace’

Sir Salman Rushdie

Sir Salman Rushdie has admitted that one of his least favourite books is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, saying that it makes the Twilight series look “look like ‘War and Peace’.”

By Chris Irvine

The author of ‘The Satanic Verses’ and ‘Midnight’s Children’ said that he had read a page or two of the book on Amazon, but quipped: “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made ‘Twilight’ look like ‘War and Peace.'”

Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, despite critical reception of the novel being at best mixed.

The Twilight saga is a series of vampire-themed teen romance novels by US author Stephanie Meyer that has been turned into a hugely successful film series starring Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

Sir Salman was speaking over the weekend at the New York Festival, in New York, and was discussing ‘Joseph Anton’, his new memoir about the fatwa declared on him in 1989 by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

He also talked about the cathartic experience of finally writing his story.

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September 28, 2012

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie – review

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 12:38 pm

  Salman Rushdie’s account of surviving a fatwa is brutally honest and profound.

By Margaret Drabble

One of the heroes of Rushdie’s memoir is a handsome, tennis-playing, gun-carrying police protection officer called Stan, which may or may not be his real name. His first reaction to the fatwa was simple. “It can’t be allowed… threatening a British citizen. It’s not on. It’ll get sorted.” As we know, it took years to sort and arguments against the dying ayatollah’s death sentence span out of control into impassioned and often intemperate debates about the blasphemy laws, freedom of speech, the nature of fiction, cultural relativism, Islam, the narrowing of national identities and the alleged cost to the British nation of Stan, his colleagues and Operation Malachite. Rushdie’s bold, complex and literary novel, The Satanic Verses, was hijacked by the exterminating angels of wrath, a wrath that still flames around us. Some were killed, many were threatened. It continues.

Rushdie has now told his version of events and it is more gripping than any spy story. Having resisted commercial attempts to fictionalise his life, he has attempted to tell his own truth. It cannot have been easy. He kept a journal, but, being a clever and would-be honest man, he knows we deceive and bowdlerise even in our journals and admits it.

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September 20, 2012

Samuel Johnson Prize longlist revealed

 | By Charlotte Williams

Fourteen titles have made this year’s longlist for the £20,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, with three titles each from HarperCollins, Penguin and Random House selected.

The longlist includes Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton (Jonathan Cape), as well as books on early attempts to climb Mount Everest, a biography of J Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb, and a history of feathers.

The chair of the judges, Rt Hon David Willetts MP, said: “This has been a bumper year for non-fiction, and as judges we’ve enjoyed encountering new places and faces as well as enjoying classic stories being told afresh. The longlist reflects the diverse range of high quality non-fiction available for readers to enjoy, and we hope they will inspired to pick up some of these titles and be entertained by the true stories they tell.”

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