May 28, 2024

I found it—to my surprise—to be quite strange and wonderful. The Rushdie who interrogates The A. is like my piano player. Not really Rushdie. The A. is not really the wannabe assassin, who, when he travelled to Chautauqua, New York with murder on his mind packed a whole bagful of knives, spoiling himself for choice. They are both, the interrogator and interrogatee, ghostly, mental interlocutors for positions that cannot readily be reconciled, one standing for a loquacious and capacious postwar notion of art, free expression, progress, and sensuality while the other voices a seemingly older and more austere faith in a freedom born out of submission to the very real will of God. Rushdie—fake Rushdie, interrogator Rushdie—gives himself the literary illusions, the sharper eye for contradiction and hypocrisy, but then, he gives his quarry, his almost-killer, the best lines. “Listen: At school there’s this experiment with iron filings and a magnet. When you point the magnet, all the iron filings fall in line. They all point in the same direction. That’s what I’m telling you. The magnet is God. If you’re made of iron, you’ll point in the right direction. And the iron is faith.”

These dream dialogues point back to the central surprise of the book: neither “the A.” nor the author is who we—or who they themselves—quite expected them to be. Rushdie is no longer some literary enfant terrible, no longer the man in hiding, no longer the famous party-hound and celebrity of middle age: he is a comfortable, married, upper-middle class Manhattanite, settling into Flaubert’s maxim about living a regular and orderly life and saving violent originality for your books. How strange, and how compelling to find out that after everything, Salman Rushdie is just some writer.

The book then rushes to a rather pat conclusion. Yes, yes, happiness could reemerge after tragedy and pain. I don’t begrudge the author this message, or this ending, but I could not help but wonder if this swift return to regular life, to date nights and vacations, constituted a little bit of a narrative cop-out, and if the mind that could confront itself with the rigid and unshakeable faith of those imagined conversations with its own would-be exterminator might not come, if given more time, to a more ambiguous answer.