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An Interview with Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie, author of "Haroun and the Sea of Stories", "Midnight's Children", "The Satanic Verses", "Shalimar the Clown", "Grimus", "Shame", "The Moor's Last Sigh", "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", "Fury', and most recently published, "The Enchantress of Florence", answered the following questions.

Q-"In "The Enchantress of Florence", East meets West and West meets East. What are East and West to you?"

A-"This is something that has been mixed up inside me from the time I was born. I grew up in Bombay, India. I don't call it Mumbai, and Bombay, is a British city built in India. I spent a lot of my life as a writer trying to celebrate that. In the novel, one strange thing I found was that I was writing about cultural differences, a great contrast. There were both cultures that swung from puritanical to libertine, an echo of each other philosophically. It was a discovery for me. Ideas of liberal humanism and sovereign individual self. The Mind of an Emperor, The Machiavellian Side, politics as ruthless, amoral, whether you could be a good ruler that would lead you to injustice. I feel that the curse of mankind is that we are all so similar, it is more like sibling rivalry, that we are quite aggressive. If we were from separate planets, we wouldn't fight so much."

Q-"You seem to grapple with God. What are your feelings towards God?"
A-"Negative, Not my tea. If you have to look towards someone else to tell you what is right or wrong, it's like being a child. I have a problem with God."

Q-"Do you know where you were going in "The Enchantress of Florence"?
A-"It was an unusual moment of time, modern age, in Europe/Renaissance. It was a challenge to tell a story of a woman moving from East to West. I believe that the biggest difference between Europe and the US, was that in Europe in 1800, essentially they were fighting against the church and freedom from religion, whereas, in the US, religious groups came here to practice."

Q-"Where is home for you? Where do you cultivate your garden?"
A-"I'm at home in my house in London. It's not complicated to have more than one home. I also feel at home in Bombay, where I was born and raised. Why would you say that there is no place like home if home is cancerous, and the alternative is Oz. The world you discover becomes home, we all grow up and make a home for ourselves, unless you are still with your parents, and they want you out of their house."

Q-"Talk about love, and love and writing."
A-"Love might not be as romantic as we think. It may be more savage. Longevity may be just ways of domesticating it. Love is more dangerous. In the novel, "The Enchantress of Florence", she leaves him for a more powerful man."

Q- "About writing?"
A-"Near the final stages of a novel, I get difficult to be with. It's fun, but I'm not fun to be around. If you find yourself properly inside your character, they tell you what to do."

Q-"What do you think about the rising of India and China, while we are sinking? As the east has more influence on global affairs, what will they bring to the game?"
A-"I'm not entirely sure. The USD will be less than the peso. The Chinese are ruthless. India is a poor country, and you will notice their army has never intervened. India has never been much of an exporter. The problems with India are many. One, public corruption, Two, Economic Disparity of Rich/Poor, 3/4 of the country live below the poverty line, and Three, levels of blind incompetence, the recent attacks in Bombay, the Pakistani's fault. India is incompetent. It took three hours for firetrucks to arrive, and it is a city near water, seven hours for commandos to come, the body armor the commandos were wearing didn't protect them, and three of their main police officers were killed. They demonstrated a level of incompetence. It is influenced by the 1993 Bombing in Bombay and the Mafia Don Abdul Razzak Memon, Tiger Memon. In India they run an operation of smuggling Diesel fuel by bribing the Coast Guard. So they leave a little space between the gate, and the fuel can pass through. So why didn't the Coast Guard intercept the terrorists? Because they were bribed. One night, instead of Diesel fuel passing through, terrorism came through."

Q-"What are your thoughts about the attacks in Bombay? What do you feel about Islamic Fundamentalists. What do you see happening with respect to this?"
A-"If you look at Pakistan, they have become more Islamasized. Pakistan has every terrorist group. They have a leadership problem, and a nuclear bomb. Those groups cause a lot of damage and you have to beat them. They are people you have to defeat."

Q-"Would you say the same thing about Hamas?"
A-"There is no good guy. There is nowhere where right lies. I don't have a solution."

Q-"Talk about the possibility of an autobiography."
A-"People, not unlike my literary agent, Andrew Weiden, are the most exceptional allies. I haven't found a way to write an autobiography. When you look at the autobiography of G. Marquez, it feels like a book by G. Marquez. I haven't found out how to do it. It's a good story, though. When my son was 11, I promised him I would write a book for him. I was pleased to write for an audience of one. So, after "The Satanic Verses", I wrote "Haroun and the Sea of Stories". Now, David Lipman, producer of "Shrek" wants to turn it into a film. Children are remarkable. They tell the truth. It is a great pleasure writing for children. Kurt Marshall's real love was writing children's books. Eric Kessner's book, "Emil and the Detectives", is the only book of his still in print."

Q-"Are you a pessimist?"
A-"There is a Palestinian author, Emile Habiby, who wrote "The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist". This is not a great moment in our world's history. We are smarter than rats, however, and AIDS viruses. We have an amazing resiliency. It is not required for a writer to be an optimist. Look at "The Catcher and the Rye", there's not a laugh in it."

Q-"Thoughts on Obama?"
A- "Bush's knowledge of the world was small, so it is very remarkable that this man should arrive at this moment. This is someone we need. I am hopeful. There is no doubt he will disappoint us, but I'm glad it is him. Things finally got so bad in the US, that Americans did the right thing. Obama is a good writer. I am happy that he is black and a writer in "The White House". He has set the ground work, so when someone else black runs, it will have already been done."

Q-"Where do you like to live?"
A-"I have homes in NY, London and Bombay. I would not like to live in Kansas. I like big cities. They are all very similar. NY/Bombay look and feel alike. Same size, on a peninsula. Some claim that Queens, a borough of New York City, was named after Catherine of Braganza, an ugly woman. They were thinking of placing a statue of her across the harbor from "The Statue of Liberty", and they would face each other. Then they were thinking of making the Statue more multicultural looking, even more ugly than she really was. Then because of a slavery accusation, the statue never got built."

Q-"Where do you most like to write?"
A-"NY. I live where my books are, and after you have unpacked your books, you don't want to pack them again."
Sharon Abella
Sharon is a regular contributor to and
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