Salman Rushdie -- he of the devilish eyebrow quirk, gossip column romances with stunning socialites, and long-established place in the modern literary canon -- has a new novel hitting bookstores this week for the first time in nearly a decade. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights follows his 2012 memoir, Joseph Anton, and his 2010 young adult novel, Luka and the Fire of Life, but it's a full plunge back into his most familiar métier.
Two Years puts on display Rushdie's powerful approach to magical realism, blending mythology into a century-spanning narrative driven by characters both ancient (a jinnia who fell in love with a human man in the 12th century) and modern (a struggling graphic novelist who lives with his mother in Queens). The title itself reformulates 1,001 nights into a more contemporary form of time-keeping, which strips the number of its obvious resonance. Rushdie dramatizes this clash between the folklore we superstitiously believe in, from a distance of centuries, and our current, secular approach to the world.
"Magic realism isn't just a fad," Rushdie told The Huffington Post via email. "The fable, the surreal story, is just another way of getting at the truth, and if it has good, deep roots in the real ... then it can intensify a reader’s experience of truth."
The author also shared his thoughts on how his real life informs his fiction, his sometimes fraught relationship with the press, and what he considers his real calling:
It’s been around eight years since your last work of adult fiction was published -- how did it feel to get back to that after working on a memoir and a book for younger readers?
It felt great, and confirmed to me that from now on I should just stick to the day job.
Over the years, you’ve repeatedly returned to a form of fiction that might be termed magical realism, and which incorporates so much historical and mythological context -- including your new novel. Why are you so drawn to this storytelling approach?
Magic realism isn’t a fad -- it has been around as long as art has been. Kafka, Gogol, Bulgakov, Magritte, Buñuel: all magic realists in their way. The fable, the surreal story, is just another way of getting at the truth, and if it has good, deep roots in the real -- the “realism” part of magic realism -- then it can intensify a reader’s experience of truth, crystallize it in to words and images that stay with one. That’s the appeal.
In the new book, you open with a love affair between a beautiful but demanding jinnia and a scholar, Ibn Rushd, who was at the time exiled due to his controversial philosophy. Did you draw heavily from your own experiences, especially following the fatwa, to inform the novel?
Obviously there are echoes between Ibn Rushd’s life and mine: persecution, book burning, similar ideas. But no jinnia in my life. And remember that while she presents herself to him as a young woman, she’s actually extremely antique. At one point she claims to remember the dinosaurs. Which makes him her boy toy.
The literary media have been known to antagonize you at times -- we actually once had a Twitter exchange about a headline of mine you disliked. Do you have any broader concerns about the literary media and their current practices?
I think we kissed and made up quickly, no? [Ed. note: True!] I have no important complaints. Obviously I know where and by whom my work tends to get trashed, but oh well. On the whole I’ve had a pretty even break.
You’ve been active on Twitter, while some other authors, notably Jonathan Franzen, have criticized it as a distraction to the artistic process. Why did you start tweeting, and have you found any benefits from it, artistically or otherwise?
I go in and out of Twitter. Right now it’s a great way to talk to interested readers about my new work. Often I’m grateful for the speed with which news reaches me via Twitter. And sometimes I’m in agreement with Jonathan Franzen and don’t need that noise in my head.
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