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Says Rushdie of his decision to write the screenplay for the Deepa Mehta-directed Midnight’s Children: “The person who can be most disrespectful of the book is me.” (Michael Falco For The Globe and Mail)
Says Rushdie of his decision to write the screenplay for the Deepa Mehta-directed Midnight’s Children: “The person who can be most disrespectful of the book is me.” (Michael Falco For The Globe and Mail)

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Salman Rushdie gets back to his day job Add to ...

In truth, the Rushdie-Showtime connection shouldn’t surprise us. A New Yorker since 1999 (albeit with a flat in London for flying visits to his two sons. Aside: “I’m not planning to marry again. My sons have strong views on that.”), Rushdie is tightly plugged into Americana, pop and political. As such, he laments the disappearance of indigenous writers from the American conversation: “Most American writers don’t get asked their opinion on current affairs, whereas in Europe and England we still do. There are writers here who are the most sophisticated commentators, but they’re not asked. Like Don DeLillo, who sort of forecast most of the modern world before it happened. Why don’t they ask Don what’s happening? It used to occur a generation earlier, with Mailer or Sontag or Vidal.”

Obviously, Rushdie is an exception to that exclusionary rule. Having been politicized, he is allowed to politicize: “I used to write a monthly column for the New York Times Syndicate. But I stopped because I found it really hard to have one extreme opinion a month. I don’t know how these columnists have two or three ideas a week; I was having difficulty having 12 things to say a year.”

I suggest those columnists may have a more forgiving notion of what constitutes an idea. He smiles, and continues: “I was always a writer who was invested in public issues, and thought one should be involved directly in the argument. But I’m getting less interested in rushing onto television to talk about politics.”

Why? “Getting old, I guess. I’m more interested in doing my day job. There’s a moment where you’re not a kid any more, when you realize time is finite.”

Well, if nothing else, age offers perspective and, looking out from his 65 years, Rushdie is perfectly positioned to scan the current literary landscape. He likes what he sees: “Ten years ago or so, I was a little depressed about what was getting written, because I felt people had moved toward much smaller canvases. But I think there’s been a revival. I very much admire David Mitchell. He’s a supertalented and really serious writer. The movie of Cloud Atlas is at TIFF, no? And I think Zadie Smith’s getting better and better. In American writing, there’s always been a strong immigrant strain, but now there’s a whole new branch of it, Nam Le with his Vietnamese background, or Junot Diaz. Suddenly, you have a new kind of immigrant literature becoming American literature, and that’s very invigorating.

“At the end of a writing life, it’s always nice to see that the next thing is happening, and it’s quite clear that there’s a lot of incredibly gifted young writers now.”

However, the end isn’t quite nigh. After the twin splashes and the requisite job of publicity and the accompanying cult of fame, what then? “I do have a novel in my head. And I look forward to having a couple of years of just quietly sitting down and writing.” Or, as he once more eloquently put it: “Writers are really good at creating that quiet space, in a room with the door shut. Writing’s too hard, and most of the time you feel dumb. It’s so difficult, you don’t have time to worry about being famous. That just seems like shit that happens outside.”

* * * * *

Outside where stuff happens, the luncheon crowd has dispersed, but the midday’s children remain hard at play. While a homeless man sleeps at the sidewalk’s edge, while a sexy girl dances around her static boyfriend, while Joseph Anton rests in peace and Joseph Anton waits to be born, the faux band is keeping it real, and wise words float up through the shadows into the light: “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on.”

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