From one of the great novelists of our day, a vital, brilliant new book of essays, speeches and articles essential for our times. Step Across This Line showcases the other side of one of fiction's most astonishing conjurors. On display is Salman Rushdie's incisive, thoughtful and generous mind, in prose that is as entertaining as it is topical. The world is here, captured in pieces on a dazzling array of subjects: from New York's Amadou Diallo case to the Wizard of Oz, from U2 to fifty years of Indian writing, from a tribute to Angela Carter to the struggle to film Midnight's Children. The title essay was originally delivered at Yale as the 2002 Tanner lecture on human values, and examines the changing meaning of frontiers in the modern world -- moral and metaphorical frontiers as well as physical ones.
Roughly one-fourth of these essays deals with the response of the media, various governments and Rushdie himself to what he calls the "unfunny Valentine" he received on February 14, 1989, from the Ayatollah Khomeini: the fatwa calling for his death. Everyone, it seems, had a script for Rushdie to follow, though none of these fantasies resembled the rather simple one the author fancied (and which seems to have been realized), which is that his problems gradually disappear and he be allowed to resume a more or less normal writerly life. To paraphrase an idea that appears in several of these essays, the problem is that frontiers cross us rather than the other way around: we are going about our business when our country is divided (as happened to Rushdie's native India in 1947) or we encounter a shocking work of art or our enemies declare they will kill us. Many respond to unnerving changes by embracing religion, but, says Rushdie, "ancient wisdoms are modern nonsenses"; in place of sectarian fervor, he recommends intellectual freedom, a simple concept yet a rigorous practice, as this book proves. These essays range over literature, politics and religion, as well as Rushdie's two private passions, rock music and soccer. They are united by a play of sparkling intelligence seasoned with sly wit, qualities that would serve the world at any time in its long, flawed history. After all, says Rushdie, the story he loved first and still loves best, perhaps the story of all humanity, is The Wizard of Oz, a fable that tells us the grown-up world doesn't really work, that adults can be good people and still be bad wizards. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 09, 2002
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Excerpt from Step Across This Line by Salman Rushdie
I wrote my first short story in Bombay at the age of ten. Its title was ' Over the Rainbow. ' It amounted to a dozen or so pages, was dutifully typed up by my father ' s secretary on flimsy paper, and was eventually lost somewhere along my family ' s mazy journeyings between India, England, and Pakistan. Shortly before my father ' s death in 1987, he claimed to have found a copy moldering in an old file, but despite my pleadings he never produced it. I ' ve often wondered about this incident. Maybe he never really found the story, in which case he had succumbed to the lure of fantasy, and this was the last of the many fairy tales he told me. Or else he did find it, and hugged it to himself as a talisman and a reminder of simpler times, thinking of it as his treasure, not mine ' his pot of nostalgic, parental gold.
I don ' t remember much about the story. It was about a ten-year-old Bombay boy who one day happens upon the beginning of a rainbow, a place as elusive as any pot-of-gold end zone, and as rich in promise. The rainbow is broad, as wide as the sidewalk, and constructed like a grand staircase. Naturally, the boy begins to climb. I have forgotten almost everything about his adventures, except for an encounter with a talking pianola whose personality is an improbable hybrid of Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, and the ' playback singers ' of the Hindi movies, many of which made The Wizard of Oz look like kitchen-sink realism.
My bad memory ' what my mother would call a ' forgettery ' ' is probably a blessing. Anyway, I remember what matters. I remember that The Wizard of Oz (the film, not the book, which I didn ' t read as a child) was my very first literary influence. More than that: I remember that when the possibility of my going to school in England was mentioned, it felt as exciting as any voyage over rainbows. England felt as wonderful a prospect as Oz.
The wizard, however, was right there in Bombay. My father, Anis Ahmed Rushdie, was a magical parent of young children, but he was also prone to explosions, thunderous rages, bolts of emotional lightning, puffs of dragon smoke, and other menaces of the type also practiced by Oz, the great and terrible, the first Wizard Deluxe. And when the curtain fell away and we, his growing offspring, discovered (like Dorothy) the truth about adult humbug, it was easy for us to think, as she did, that our wizard must be a very bad man indeed. It took me half a lifetime to discover that the Great Oz ' s apologia pro vita sua fitted my father equally well; that he too was a good man but a very bad wizard.