Salman Rushdie imagines surprising outcome from conflict

Salman Rushdie appears in a City Arts & Lectures presentation to promote his new book. (Courtesy Beowulf Sheehan)

Salman Rushdie’s latest novel “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” chronicles the epic struggle between reason and the supernatural. But the world’s foremost proponent of magical realism believes both can operate in accordance.

“I have that argument in my head all the time,” says Rushdie, who appears at the Nourse theater Wednesday as part of City Arts & Lectures’ Cultural Studies series. “I think of myself as a rational person, not interested in superstitions or sky gods. And yet my imaginative self is constantly coming up with jinnis. What makes this kind of writing work is that it is grounded in the real world. No matter how fantasticated the storyline gets, it’s an attempt to write about he world as it is. Otherwise, it’s just whimsical and not that interesting.”

To this end, the Booker prize-winning British-Indian author of 12 novels, including “Midnight’s Children” and “The Satanic Verses,” rejects the notion that any of the characters in his new book, such as Mr. Geronimo, an Indian expatriate who, like Rushdie, moved to New York City or Ibn Rushd (based on the real-life 12th century Spanish philosopher), whose surname and philosophies are close to the author’s own, are purely autobiographical.

“I don’t want there to be characters that can be neatly equated with the author, so they’re like a me chart,” he argues. “There are characters who share things with me. But what I’ve found over the years is that even when you create a character whose starting point is somewhere quite close to yourself, by the time the book is done, the character always seems to be someone other than myself. That imaginative act, which is that journey from reality to fiction, is what’s interesting to me.”

Given the fallout Rushdie experienced from “The Satanic Verses” controversy — which included murders, attempted murders and bombings related to Iran’s Islamic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calling for his death in 1989 — it’s miraculous Rushie can imagine global peace in a not too distant future in “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.”

“I asked myself how easy it would be right now, given the news and so on, to write a book where everything’s awful and ends badly,” Rushdie says. “But supposing we don’t do that; what else could we do? Yes, we have to dramatize the conflict, because there are great conflicts in our time, but maybe the outcome could be in some ways surprising.”


Salman Rushdie
Presented by City Arts & Lectures
Where: Nourse, 275 Hayes St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9
Tickets: $39 (includes book)

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