For lovers of good literary controversy, Salman Rushdie is the gift that keeps on giving.
A few months after the publication of Rushdie’s memoir “Joseph Anton,” the New York Review of Books (where they specialize in this sort of thing) published a takedown of Rushdie, written by the British novelist and journalist Zoe Heller.
Heller accuses Rushdie of being disingenuous when he says in his memoir that he had no idea his iconoclastic 1989 novel “The Satanic Verses” would set off such a violent and vicious controversy--more than 50 people were killed and the Iranian regime declared a fatwa against him. Rushdie told The Times in an interview this summer that he was “naïve” about what the reaction to “The Satanic Verses” would be.
Baloney, says Heller. Rushdie had already been sued for libel by the prime minister of India for his second novel, “Midnight’s Children,” and his third had been banned in Pakistan. He always sought to deliberately provoke, she writes, and “was better qualified than most to appreciate literature’s capacity for eliciting hostile, nonliterary responses.”
Heller also says Rushdie the memoirist is being “egregiously uncharitable” in his description of his relationships with women—his second and fourth wives are the targets of especially negative portrayals in “Joseph Anton.”
“Rushdie has said that one of his aims in writing ‘Joseph Anton’ was to be ‘tougher’ on himself ‘than on anybody else,’” Heller writes, paraphrasing what Rushdie told The Times. “This is a steep ambition for any memoirist and quite possibly an unrealistic one for a man as tenacious in his grudges as Rushdie. When faced with a choice between exercising magnanimity and exacting long-awaited revenge, the author of ‘Joseph Anton’ almost invariably opts for the latter.”
As of Friday morning, there is as yet no response from Rushdie at the place where he’s most often responded recently to attacks against him: his Twitter feed.