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Rushdie on the road to recovery, showing ‘defiant sense of humor’

Family of author stabbed on Friday says it is ‘extremely relieved,’ though he remains in critical condition with severe injuries

A general view shows UPMC Hamot Surgery Center in Erie, Pennsylvania, on August 13, 2022, where Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie is being treated. (Jorge Uzon / AFP)
A general view shows UPMC Hamot Surgery Center in Erie, Pennsylvania, on August 13, 2022, where Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie is being treated. (Jorge Uzon / AFP)

The family of Salman Rushdie is “extremely relieved” that he has been taken off a ventilator following his stabbing, and the British author has retained his “defiant sense of humor,” his son said Sunday.

“We are extremely relieved that yesterday he was taken off the ventilator and additional oxygen and was able to say a few words,” his son Zafar tweeted.

Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, said earlier Sunday that Rushdie was on the “road to recovery,” two days after he was stabbed multiple times in a shocking assault at a literary event in New York state.

Zafar said that despite the promising news, his father’s injuries were “life-changing” and “severe,” and that he remained in a critical condition.

But “his usual feisty & defiant sense of humor remains intact,” he added in the tweet.

Zafar offered thanks to audience members who “bravely leapt to his defense” and for the “outpouring of love and support from around the world.”

Wylie cautioned that, although Rushdie’s “condition is headed in the right direction,” his recovery would be a long process.

Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, Wylie said previously, and was likely to lose the injured eye.

Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called “a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack” at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center.

The attack was met with global shock and outrage, along with praise for the man who, for more than three decades, has weathered death threats and a $3 million bounty on his head for his book “The Satanic Verses.” Rushdie even spent nine years in hiding under a British government protection program.

Author Salman Rushdie speaks during the Mississippi Book Festival, in Jackson, Mississippi, on August 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Authors, activists and government officials cited Rushdie’s bravery and longtime championing of free speech in the face of such intimidation. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan labeled Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists,” and actor-author Kal Penn called him a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora.”

“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — stands for essential, universal ideals,” US President Joe Biden said in a Saturday statement. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear.”

Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family and has lived in Britain and the US, is known for his surreal and satirical prose, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel, “Midnight’s Children,” in which he sharply criticized India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

Infused with magical realism, 1988’s “The Satanic Verses” drew ire from some Muslims who regarded elements of the novel as blasphemy.

They believed Rushdie insulted the Prophet Muhammad by naming a character Mahound, a medieval corruption of “Muhammad.” The character was a prophet in a city called Jahilia, which in Arabic refers to the time before the advent of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula. Another sequence has prostitutes who share names with some of Muhammad’s nine wives. The novel also implies that Muhammad, not Allah, may have been the Quran’s real author.

Hadi Matar, 24, arrives for an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, New York, August 13, 2022. Matar is accused of carrying out a stabbing attack against ‘Satanic Verses’ author Salman Rushdie. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Investigators were trying to determine whether the suspect, born nearly a decade after the novel’s publication, acted alone. A prosecutor alluded to the standing fatwa as a potential motive in arguing against bail.

Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a refuge for artists in exile.

News about the stabbing has led to renewed interest in “The Satanic Verses,” which topped bestseller lists after the fatwa was issued in 1989. As of Sunday morning, the novel ranked No. 11 on Amazon.com’s list.

One of Rushdie’s ex-wives, the author and television host Padma Lakshmi, tweeted Sunday that she was “relieved” by Rushdie’s prognosis.

“Worried and wordless, can finally exhale,” she wrote. “Now hoping for swift healing.”

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