Author: Hannah Fishbein
While LA may not have the literary pedigree of New York City, a famed novelist’s appearance nevertheless attracts bibliophiles in droves. Most recently, a remarkably large crowd gathered around the entrance to the Mark Taper Auditorium at the Los Angeles Central Library Sept. 10 for the evening’s ALOUD literary lecture series. The excitement was palpable as those in line, many of whom had arrived hours before, clamored for a seat near the stage, awaiting the arrival of Salman Rushdie.
Rushdie’s entrance was magnetic; immediately all eyes focused on his spectacled visage. Los Angeles author and journalist Héctor Tobar, who led the conversation with Rushdie about his latest book, “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” joined Rushdie on stage.
Initially, Rushdie and Tobar seem like an unlikely pair. Rushdie works within the magical realism genre, while Tobar has devoted much of his career to chronicling the relationship between Latin America and the U.S. But Rushdie claims his work speaks as much to current realities as Tobar’s.
“The fantastic works best in literature when it has a root in the real world,” Rushdie said at the event.
Rushdie stays true to this philosophy in “Two Years,” which blends the fantastic with the historical. The novel, which was published Sept. 8, tells the story of a jinn princess, her mortal lover and their numerous descendants. After a super storm strikes New York City, the mystical powers of these descendants reveal themselves, effectively erasing the division between the jinn world and the human world. The end of humanity seems imminent as a “war of the worlds” ensues between good and evil.
In discussing the interplay between fantasy and history that is central to the book, Rushdie asserted that reality is subjective and the two spheres are less distinct than they might seem.
“The world is real. There are things in which we are born, live and die in, there is a world of observable tangible reality where actions have consequences,” Rushdie said. “But we also live in an age in which reality is [constantly] contested. Every age of the world remakes the history of the past in its own image.”
During the discussion, Rushdie’s wickedly dry sense of humor accompanied his calm demeanor; he joked about his critics, fellow authors, politicians and even his own work. Though wise cracks abounded, Rushdie also discussed the importance of expressing and challenging one’s ideas, touching on his own experience with his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses.”
Rushdie became the poster boy for freedom of expression after controversy surrounded the work, as many Muslims took offense to the novel’s liberal adaptation of Muhammad’s life. Rushdie spent a decade hiding after the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for Rushdie’s death.
And although “Two Years” avoids the same controversy, it still comments on the chaos and conflict of today’s world, weaving together fantasy, reality and wit in equal measure.
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