Months after being stabbed repeatedly as he prepared to give a lecture, Salman Rushdie is blind in his right eye, struggles to write and, at times, has “frightening” nightmares.
But, he said during his first interview since the attack, he still has a feeling of gratitude.
“Well, you know, I’ve been better,” he told The New Yorker’s David Remnick during an interview published Monday. “But, considering what happened, I’m not so bad.”
“The big injuries are healed, essentially,” Rushdie went on to describe. “I have feeling in my thumb and index finger and in the bottom half of the palm. I’m doing a lot of hand therapy, and I’m told that I’m doing very well.”
Remnick, who spoke with Rushdie both in person at his agent’s office in Manhattan and via Zoom, wrote that the Booker Prize-winning author had lost more than 40 pounds and mostly reads through an iPad so he can adjust the lighting and font size.
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“There is scar tissue on the right side of his face,” Remnick wrote. “He speaks as fluently as ever, but his lower lip droops on one side. The ulnar nerve in his left hand was badly damaged.”
Rushdie, 75, lived in hiding for years after Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death because of the alleged blasphemy of the novel The Satanic Verses. But he had long since moved about freely, with minimal security, and did not feel any sense of risk last August about appearing at the Chautauqua Institution, a non-profit education and retreat centre in western New York.
Rushdie was on stage when approached by a young man dressed in black and carrying a knife. The alleged assailant, Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and attempted murder. During his New Yorker interview, Rushdie referred to Matar as an “idiot,” but otherwise said he felt no anger.
“I’ve tried very hard over these years to avoid recrimination and bitterness,” he said. “I just think it’s not a good look. One of the ways I’ve dealt with this whole thing is to look forward and not backward. What happens tomorrow is more important than what happened yesterday.”
The interview came out on the eve of the publication of Rushdie’s new novel, Victory City, which he completed a month before he was attacked. Featuring a protagonist who lives to be 247, Victory is a characteristically surreal and exuberant narrative about an imagined ancient poem that has received highly favourable reviews, with The Washington Post’s Ron Charles writing that “Rushdie’s magical style unfurls wonders.”
Rushdie had been silent for months on social media, but now tweets on occasion and even responds to insults. When a tweeter last week told him he was living a “disgraceful life,” Rushdie answered, “Oh, another fan! So pleased.”
During his interview, he noted ruefully that sales for his book had soared after the stabbing, as if he were more popular when in danger.
“Now that I’ve almost died, everybody loves me,” he said. “That was my mistake, back then. Not only did I live but I tried to live well. Bad mistake. Get 15 stab wounds, much better.”
On Monday, he tweeted a picture of himself, staring directly into the camera lens – his face thinner than in photos from before the stabbing, his right eye covered by a dark lens in his glasses frame.
He is otherwise still trying to recover. Rushdie has written that he initially had difficulty writing fiction after the fatwa, and he is having a hard time now, saying that he will sit down to work and “nothing happens,” just a “combination of blankness and junk.”
One project he may attempt: a follow-up to his 2012 memoir Joseph Anton, which he wrote in the third person.
“This doesn’t feel third-person-ish to me,” Rushdie said of a possible sequel. “I think when somebody sticks a knife into you, that’s a first-person story. That’s an ‘I’ story.”