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 on Monday (February 6). “But, considering what happened, I’m not so bad.”
The big injuries have healed
“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 (18 kilograms) and mostly reads through an iPad so he can adjust the lighting and font size.
Also read: How we have all failed Salman Rushdie at some level after the fatwa
“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 center in western New York.
Rushdie calls his attacker an ‘idiot’, but feels no anger
Rushdie was on stage when he was 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.
Rushdie said he solely blamed Matar for the stabbing. “I blame him,” Rushdie said, and declined to place any blame on those in charge of security.
Also read: Salman Rushdie attacker surprised the author survived
He added that his sons Zafar and Milan have helped him cope after the traumatic experience.
“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 backwards. What happens tomorrow is more important than what happened yesterday.”
Rushdie’s new novel, Victory City, gets rave reviews
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.
I’ll be watching! https://t.co/2EzOtG8qhw
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) February 4, 2023
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.
The photo in @NewYorker is dramatic and powerful but this, more prosaically, is what I actually look like. 😊 pic.twitter.com/ydrV7WvWgE
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) February 6, 2023
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.”
(With inputs from agencies)