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Salman Rushdie Reflects on the Attack That Nearly Killed Him in 'Knife': NPR

Salman Rushdie Reflects on the Attack That Nearly Killed Him in 'Knife': NPR


Salman Rushdie says write Knife allowed him to change his relationship to the attack. “Instead of just being the person who was stabbed, I now think of myself as the person who wrote a book about being stabbed,” he says.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths/Random House of Penguins



Rachel Eliza Griffiths/Random House of Penguins

Salman Rushdie says write Knife allowed him to change his relationship to the attack. “Instead of just being the person who was stabbed, I now think of myself as the person who wrote a book about being stabbed,” he says.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths/Random House of Penguins

Two nights before he was stabbed on stage at a literary event in 2022, Salman Rushdie had a nightmare. In his dream, Rushdie was in an ancient Roman amphitheater, rolling on the ground as a spear-wielding gladiator stabbed him.

“It was certainly very vivid, very real and very scary,” Rushdie says. “I was rolling around in bed and struggling, and my wife had to wake me up.”

His immediate instinct was to cancel his upcoming appearance at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, but then he rationalized his fear: “People have dreams. You don't run your daily life because of a bad dream and so I decided I would go,” Rushdie said.

Rushdie is no stranger to death threats. After his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses was published, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini declared the book blasphemous in its treatment of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, and issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death. Faced with the threat, Rushdie, who grew up in India in a secular Muslim family, stayed out of the public eye for years.

But after years of security, Rushdie had returned to a normal life. Then, on August 12, 2022, a 24-year-old man in the audience rushed onstage in Chautauqua. In an attack that lasted 27 seconds, the man stabbed Rushdie multiple times, severing all the tendons and most of the nerves in one hand and injuring him in the neck, chest, thigh and back. the eye.

Lying in a “lake of blood,” Rushdie believed he was about to die. He was struck by a feeling of loneliness: “Dying in the company of strangers was what was on my mind,” he said.

Rushdie says he is not inclined to believe in miracles, but he does not know how else to explain his survival.

“A lot of the doctors I've worked with over the last year and a half are not only surprised that I survived, which I did, but they're also surprised that I've recovered to this extent,” says -he. “It seems like miracles are all around me.”

In his new book, Knife, Rushdie writes about the attack, the damage to his body (including losing sight in one eye), and more existential questions about facing death and finding one's identity in a body and a changed state of mind. Rushdie says he was initially reluctant to write about the Chautauqua incident, but he is glad he did.

“It changed my relationship to the event,” he says. “Instead of just being the person who was stabbed, I now think of myself as the person who wrote a book about being stabbed. So I feel like it's back in my own author space, and I feel more in charge and that feels good.”

Interview Highlights

knife cover
knife cover

On how he stopped worrying about the fatwa before the attack

I had lived in New York for almost 24 years, and in that time I had hosted hundreds of literary events, readings, lectures, festivals, etc., without a single trace of trouble. So I kind of told myself that those days were over, but unfortunately, I was wrong. All I ever wanted to do, Terry, was write stories. And if I still have a few years left to write a few good stories, that will be enough for me.

Do not hold back your anger in the face of the attack

One of the things that I find very strange to me is that the emotion that I haven't really felt after all of this is anger. And it's like something in my head is telling me that anger will be a way of staying stuck in the present moment. That would be a way of not being able to get out of it. And so I have no anger. I guess somewhere deep down I'm pretty angry at various people, especially the gentleman with the knife, but it doesn't seem productive to dwell on the anger.

On writing about violence and hatred, healing and love

When I started thinking about writing this book, you know, I asked myself, “OK, obviously there's this attack and I want to talk about it. But beyond that, what is the book about?” And I came to feel that it was about myself being between two forces. One is a force of violence and hatred, and the other is the force of love and healing. …

The first force was obviously embodied in my attacker, and the second force was embodied in my wife, Eliza, the writer Rachel Eliza Griffiths. And I mean, since I didn't die, I can say that the force of love and healing overcame the force of violence and hatred. But I felt that this triangle was the subject of the book, that the book was about three people. It was me, him and Eliza. And so I wanted to write about love, and in a more open and direct way than perhaps I ever have before.

On the hallucinations he experienced while on a ventilator

I hallucinated palaces made of alphabets. …I saw architecture, palace architecture, whose constituent elements were all letters. There were letters floating in the air between me and the other people in the room. I remember when the ventilator was removed, I said to Eliza and her family, “Why are all these letters on your clothes? …It shows me how the world of books is the world I live in.

How being attacked changed his understanding of death

I think it did two things: first, it gave me a sort of familiarity with death. I kind of know how it goes now. I didn't get to the final note of the music, thank goodness. But I kind of understand how the melody goes. But what it did, what it did, was also give me a greatly increased appreciation for life. The reason I cited, full stop, is a poem by Raymond Carver, written after he was told he had almost no time left to live, and then he lived another 10 years and achieved some of his best works. And he said he felt like all this time that he wasn't supposed to have, he describes it as gravy. “Every day is gravy.” And that's kind of how I feel now. I feel like these are days I wasn't supposed to have, and yet I'm living them here, and every day is a blessing.

Sam Briger and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the web.




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