peteg's blog

Salman Rushdie: Step Across This Line, Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002.

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Kindle. I bought a hardcover of this when it came out back in 2002 or so. Since then I've really gone off Rushdie; the two novels he subsequently published were quite drecky. I have yet to read his memoir Joseph Anton or the recent Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.

Here Rushdie is the king of the false dichotomy, and engages in so much, too much, tedious self-aggrandizing. He is, as always, at his best weaving in the classics, but also often terribly blinkered and uninsightful. His absolutism and inability to engage with Amartya Sen-style multi-faceted identity is particularly on display when he talks about Peter Handke (essay from May 1999), who is surely capable of capturing beauty whatever his political leanings. Similarly for religion.

To re-read this now is to be reminded of the halcyon days of the late 1990s, when the (Western) world seemed to be heading in a more peaceful direction, fueled by post-Cold War optimism. Tony Blair was still somewhat decent, and the aspirations for peace in Palestine not completely stymied. Musharraf stank, yet to become indispensable.

The best parts of this book are some of his essays for the New York Times. On Faiz Ahmed Faiz:

He loved his country, too, but one of his best poems about it took, with lyrical disenchantment, the point of view of the alienated exile. This poem, translated by Agha Shahid Ali, was put up on posters in the New York subway a couple of years ago, to the delight of all those who love Urdu poetry:

You ask me about that country whose details now escape me,
I don't remember its geography, nothing of its history.
And should I visit it in memory,
It would be as I would a past lover,
After years, for a night, no longer restless with passion,
With no fear of regret.
I have reached that age when one visits the heart merely as a courtesy.