Recalling The Satanic Verses
In addition to being Valentine's day, today is the 20th anniversary of Khomeini's fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses (one of Rushdie's best and most beautiful novels).
Rumor has it that before publication, Rushdie was speaking of his novel, still in-progress, to a few people at a dinner at Edward Said's. When he got to the part about the story of Mahound, Eqbal Ahmad reportedly blurted out something like, "Are you mad? He'll kill you!" referring to Khomeini. Years later, when someone at the dinner brought up this near-prophetic remark to Rushdie, he allegedly replied, "Eqbal was wrong. I'm still alive."
Lawrence Pollard in the BBC:
It must be both the most talked about and the least read book of recent times. Since it came out in 1988 The Satanic Verses has seemed more a principle to be argued over than a book to discuss.
From the very first call for it to be banned - made by Indian MP Syed Shahabuddin - its critics have proudly announced they didn't have to read it to know it was wrong.
And anecdotally, as I have been sitting re-reading the book, many colleagues have come up and admitted they had either bought it but never opened it or started and given up. So what is it like?
The Satanic Verses is three stories, told in three styles, threaded together in one novel.
In the first story, two contemporary Indians fall out of an exploding aeroplane and survive. One seems to become an angel floating around London, the other grows horns and cloven hoofs.
In another story a poor Indian girl of great beauty, surrounded by butterflies, leads a pilgrimage of Muslim villagers into the Arabian Sea, where they drown.
And in the third, most controversial strand, a prophet founds a religion in the desert. Although this story makes up only 70 of the 550 pages of the novel, it is the part which provoked the furious reaction we now call the Satanic Verses controversy.