Friday, September 26, 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse September 2014

Via Armchair Squid.

Five years or so back a coworker of mine asked me if I'd ever read The Satanic Verses.  Wherever I work I always bring a book with me.  People see me read.  It's always notable.  The digital revolution has been going strong but it hasn't really been the revitalization of the craft that some observers thought it'd be.  Anyway, as it happened I hadn't read it.  She said she'd had a copy for years but had never managed to make her way through it.  So for the next few months I read it on lunch breaks.

I quickly fell in love with it.

I'm sure you've heard of it.  Salman Rushdie had already been a name in the literary world, but he became much better known after the fatwa was declared on him in Iran after the publication of The Satanic Verses.  These days it's impossible to ignore how seriously Muslims take their religion.  Twenty-five years ago the Arab world was still working its way toward a clash with the West.  After all the border-shifting in the wake of WWII, the increased emphasis on oil, and the massive changes that are still developing today, there were always going to be difficulties of some kind, cultural conflicts as civilization found it increasingly hard to segregate different populations from each other.  Outside of war, everyday life can make a real mockery of peace.

I just finished reading Rushdie's account of the fatwa decade he experienced, Joseph Anton, a kind of modern Odyssey.  He focuses mainly on the impact of the protection teams he had to live behind, the wives he cycled through, and the support he found in the midst of a chaotic existence.  A lot of readers have found it difficult to sympathize with Rushdie based on how he wrote his account.  It spares precious few details of those years.  Warts and all, he emerges as a man who desperately wanted to return to normalcy, but instead finds himself pressed up against matters we still can't figure out today.

The thing is, I love The Satanic Verses.  For me it's inconceivable to consider it in any other light than as a work of literary genius.  But there are people who don't consider such things as their top priority.  For me there's very little point to living if you're not free to enjoy the best of this world, and for me that means the arts.  For me, religion is that thing that allows you to put up with everything else, gives you hope.  But for everyday life, it's the arts.  The two have far more in common than it can sometimes seem.  Rushdie himself is an atheist, but that hardly means he has nothing to say on the matter.  Atheists are funny like that.  They'll spend all their time dismissing the value of religion, but for what it's worth, what someone says isn't always what they mean, whether they realize it consciously or not.

That's a little of why you ought to consider Joseph Anton an important book, and also The Satanic Verses.


  1. My wife is a Rushdie fan. I've never read any of his books but I've got one in my TBR stack now: The Moor's Last Sigh. Satanic Verses is a great choice for Banned Books Week, too!

    1. I guess it technically counts as a "banned" book, but it was more an issue of not being published, in some cases. The paperback edition was a huge hassle to make happen, certainly.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I was a kid when the Satanic Verses came out, so it was beyond me, mostly. I am glad it's a good book, but it's way outside my reading sphere--romance...

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. It's on my reading list. It's considered one of the top 100 novels of the last century.


    1. That's because it most certainly is.

    2. I try to affirm my own statements every now and then.

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