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Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay in 1947, the year of Indian independence from British rule.  When he was 14 he was sent to school in England.  In 1964 his family moved to Karachi in Pakistan, and the following year he attended Kings College, Cambridge, where he read History and began acting in the Footlights Revue.  He continued acting until 1969, when he began working as an advertising copywriter.  He stopped work for a year to write an unpublished novel, The Book of The Pir.  He then returned to copywriting part-time and continued to write. 

It wasn't until 1975 that his first novel, Grimus (1975), was published, and he began work on the monumental Midnight's Children (1981) that same year.  Midnight's Children won the Booker prize, and then won the prestigious Booker of Bookers.  Shame (1983) was also nominated for the Booker.  However, it is Midnight's Children, together with The Satanic Verses (1989) that have brought Rushdie both fame and infamy.  The Satanic Verses caused a furore and was burnt publicly in Bradford, England, for its alleged slur on the Islamic faith.  Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, pronounced a fatwa on Rushdie, condemning him to death for blasphemy.  A £1.5 million bounty was placed on his head.  Rushdie went into hiding, though he continued to write.  The fatwa has since been lifted, and Rushdie has resumed public life, now living in New York.

Collections of essays and stories followed the fatwa: Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), Imaginary Homelands (1991), and East West (1994).  Novels then began to appear again: The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) and Fury (2002).  All of Rushdie's works have received critical accolades, with the exception of Fury, which received tepid reviews.

Rushdie draws on his roots in India, Pakistan and Britain to create a way of writing that reflects interconnectedness and hybridity.  His novels (with the exception of Grimus) represent and interpret these places.  He also draws on the literary influence of writers such as Jorge Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Milan Kundera, to name a few, and in most of these cases he has written about their fiction.  Rushdie has a stylistic approach in common with these writers in that they all employ metafictional strategies of postmodernism.  In particular, he has in common with Marquez a penchant for the large-scale, fantastic and satiric epic tradition, where characters are symbols and archetypes.  While he has been categorised as “magic realist”, Rushdie himself sees his work as more allied with the surreal.

One of his great loves is The Wizard of Oz, and he has written a book on the film, simply titled The Wizard of Oz (1992).  The parallel worlds and characters of The Wizard of Oz are echoed in Rushdie's works where history often parallels fiction, such as in The Moor's Last Sigh and Midnight's Children where India is both real and fictional.

Rushdie has had greater impact than any other Indian writer writing in English.  His use of English is one of his trademarks; under his pen it has a pan-Indian inter-regional versatility and reveals an essential commonality.  He has been placed within both post-modernist and post-colonial theoretical contexts.  He uses many post-modern techniques, such as discontinuous narrative, cinematic images and metaphors, and mirror games.  He interweaves the contemporary with the mythical, and makes astute though sometimes veiled political comment.  In an interview with David Brooks, Rushdie says that the narrative technique in Midnight's Children is “a form which is thousands of years old, and yet … has all the methods of the post-modernist novel. … you become a post-modernist writer by being a very traditional one”.



Simon and Delyse Ryan ACU National