According to the BBC this morning, author Salman Rushdie is off a ventilator and is able to talk. He's still in bad shape, and will likely lose an eye, along with liver damage and nerve damage in an arm.
All because of a novel he wrote 35 years ago.
I've read it.
If you haven't you may want to. Not just to support the author, but because it's actually a fascinating book. I won't let my fading memory of it cloud your judgement, so I'll let the Wikipedia synopsis do the talking...
The Satanic Verses consists of a frame narrative, using elements of magical realism, interlaced with a series of sub-plots that are narrated as dream visions experienced by one of the protagonists. The frame narrative, like many other stories by Rushdie, involves Indian expatriates in contemporary England. The two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, are both actors of Indian Muslim background. Farishta is a Bollywood superstar who specialises in playing Hindu deities. (The character is partly based on Indian film stars Amitabh Bachchan and N. T. Rama Rao.) Chamcha is an emigrant who has broken with his Indian identity and works as a voiceover artist in England.
At the beginning of the novel, both are trapped in a hijacked plane flying from India to Britain. The plane explodes over the English Channel, but the two are magically saved. In a miraculous transformation, Farishta takes on the personality of the archangel Gabriel and Chamcha that of a devil. Chamcha is arrested and passes through an ordeal of police abuse as a suspected illegal immigrant. Farishta's transformation can partly be read on a realistic level as the symptom of the protagonist's development of schizophrenia.
Both characters struggle to piece their lives back together. Farishta seeks and finds his lost love, the English mountaineer Allie Cone, but their relationship is overshadowed by his mental illness. Chamcha, having miraculously regained his human shape, wants to take revenge on Farishta for having forsaken him after their common fall from the hijacked plane. He does so by fostering Farishta's pathological jealousy and thus destroying his relationship with Allie. In another moment of crisis, Farishta realises what Chamcha has done, but forgives him and even saves his life.
Both return to India. Farishta throws Allie off a high rise in another outbreak of jealousy and then dies by suicide. Chamcha, who has found not only forgiveness from Farishta but also reconciliation with his estranged father and his own Indian identity, decides to remain in India.
I think of it today as a dramatic illustration, couched in religious overtones, that "Absolute power corrupts absolutely". Three and a half decades later, it remains an important book.
And even though it really has nothing to do with the United States, it's worth remembering the protective clause in our own laws.Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
When the uninformed rule the world, the first thing they do is persecute intellectuals and burn books.