Master and Victim


Other countries have Man Booker Prize winners.

Other countries have Man Booker Prize winners. We Indians have a superman who's won the Booker, the Booker of Bookers and all things imaginably Booker, all for one book: Midnight's Children (1981). But looking back, the closing sentence of Salman Rushdie's first success was prescient: "…it is the privilege and the curse of midnight's children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace."

Joseph Anton is out, an account of the fatwa years written in the third person after the manner of Julius Caesar's war diary, De Bello Gallico. Its unusual subject and format guarantee it a place in the history of the memoir. The people closest to Rushdie, some of whom have been treated a bit shabbily here, have not spoken yet. But to the average person browsing the shelves, it reads like a devastatingly upfront memoir. Now, perhaps, Rushdie will be able to die in peace. But can he live in peace? Has he ever wanted to live in peace? He insists that he always did. But his detractors, some of whom he once counted as friends or natural allies, like John le Carre, insist that he deliberately lit the fuse with The Satanic Verses (1988).

A memoir is a turning point in the life of a public intellectual, a coign of vantage from which he or she looks back on a life presumably well spent. In sympathy, the readership suspends judgement, forgives much, forgets some more and commits the intellectual to the uncritical embrace of hagiography. But instead, let's look back on Rushdie's life dispassionately, not through an examination of the personality but of his art.

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