'Words are the only victors'

In 1st interview after attack, Salman Rushdie says now ‘very difficult’ to write

Author indicates he suffers from PTSD along with loss of sight in one eye and use of a hand; doesn’t know if it was an error to let his guard down decades after fatwa

British author Salman Rushdie in a selfie he posted on social media, February 7, 2023 (Twitter)
British author Salman Rushdie in a selfie he posted on social media, February 7, 2023 (Twitter)

NEW YORK — British author Salman Rushdie said he finds it “very difficult” to write after being stabbed last year, in an interview published Monday ahead of the release of his new novel “Victory City.”

Rushdie, whose “epic tale” of a 14th-century woman who defies a patriarchal world to rule a city hits US shelves on Tuesday, said the attack had scarred him mentally.

“There is such a thing as PTSD you know,” the 75-year-old told the New Yorker magazine in his first interview since the August 12 stabbing at a conference in Chautauqua in upstate New York.

“I’ve found it very, very difficult to write. I sit down to write, and nothing happens. I write, but it’s a combination of blankness and junk, stuff that I write and that I delete the next day. I’m not out of that forest yet, really,” he added.

The award-winning novelist, a naturalized American who has lived in New York for 20 years, lost sight in one eye and the use of one hand, his agent said in October.

Rushdie told journalist David Remnick that “big injuries are healed” but he was not able to type very well because of a lack of feeling in some fingertips.

“I’ve been better. But, considering what happened, I’m not so bad,” said the Indian-born author, describing himself as “lucky.”

In this file photo taken on September 10, 2018 British novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie poses during a photo session in Paris (JOEL SAGET / AFP)

Rushdie lived in hiding for years after Iran’s first supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered his killing for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of “The Satanic Verses,” published in 1988.

The attack shocked the West but was welcomed by extremists in Muslim countries such as Iran and Pakistan.

Words ‘the only victors’

Rushdie was asked whether he thought it had been a mistake to let his guard down in recent decades.

“I’m asking myself that question, and I don’t know the answer to it,” he said.

“Three-quarters of my life as a writer has happened since the fatwa. In a way, you can’t regret your life.”

Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey with roots in Lebanon, was arrested immediately after the attack and pleaded not guilty to assault charges.

“I blame him,” said Rushdie, simply.

This still image from video shows Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, at left, being escorted from the stage as people tend to author Salman Rushdie, center right, at the Chautauqua Institution, in Chautauqua, New York, Aug. 12, 2022. (AP)

“Victory City” purports to be a translation of a historical epic originally written in Sanskrit. It’s his 15th novel and was penned before the attack.

The much-anticipated work tells the tale of young orphan Pampa Kampana who is endowed by a goddess with magical powers and founds the city, in modern-day India, of Bisnaga, which translates as Victory City.

While not personally promoting the book, Rushdie has begun communicating via social media, most often to share press reviews of his new novel.

On Monday, he posted on Twitter a photo of himself with one eye covered by a darkened lens on his glasses, with the caption, “The photo in @NewYorker is dramatic and powerful but this, more personally, is what I actually look like.”

An icon of free speech since he was subjected to the fatwa that forced him into hiding, Rushdie is still an outspoken defender of the power of words.

In this file photo taken on February 26, 1989, members of pro-Iranian Hezbollah terror group burn an effigy of British writer Salman Rushdie who they accused of blasphemy for his ‘Satanic Verses,’ in Beirut, Lebanon. (Nabil Ismail/AFP)

His new work follows a heroine on a mission to “give women equal agency in a patriarchal world,” according to publisher Penguin Random House’s summary.

The book tells the tale of Pampa Kampana’s creation of a city and of its downfall.

A ‘triumph’

“Over the next 250 years, Pampa Kampana’s life becomes deeply interwoven with Bisnaga’s, from its literal sowing from a bag of magic seeds to its tragic ruination in the most human of ways: the hubris of those in power,” the publisher’s summary added.

The novel concludes with the statement: “Words are the only victors.”

US author Colum McCann wrote in The New York Times that his friend Rushdie was saying “something quite profound” in his new novel.

“In the face of danger, even in the face of death, he manages to say that storytelling is one currency we all have,” said McCann.

A group of writers and supporters gather in solidarity with Salman Rushdie outside the New York Public Library, Aug. 19, 2022, in New York. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)

The Atlantic magazine called it a “triumph — not because it exists, but because it is utterly enchanting.”

Born in Mumbai in 1947, Rushdie published his first novel “Grimus” in 1975, and gained worldwide fame six years later with “Midnight’s Children,” which won him the Booker Prize.

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