Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
18 September 2019

Salman Rushdie Q&A: “None of us gets out of here alive”

The novelist talks Don Quixote, the Beatles, and rewriting history to erase Donald Trump.

By New Statesman

Salman Rushdie was born in Mumbai in 1947. He is the author of 14 novels, including “Midnight’s Children”, which won the 1981 Booker Prize. His latest novel, “Quichotte”, has been shortlisted for this year’s prize.

What’s your earliest memory?

After the [1953] ascent of Everest, my father took me to see Sherpa Tenzing on a victory tour. He was in a sports car, maybe a Cadillac, sitting up on the back seat, waving.

Who are your heroes?

Harry Kane, because I’m a lifetime Spurs supporter and he is the greatest striker in England, and the superstar baseball outfielder Aaron Judge, because I’m a Yankees fan and he is a beast.

What book last changed your thinking?

Don Quixote. I first read it when I was in college. The Penguin Classics translation at that time made the book dull, but more recently it was re-translated by Edith Grossman and now it’s lively and engaging.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I will say someone who is currently very out of fashion in India, Jawaharlal Nehru. For me, he is an enormously formative and influential figure. Now official sources in India constantly deride him.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

There was a time when I would have said Bob Dylan lyrics, because Christopher Hitchens and I used to compete for the more accurate knowledge of them. But now I’m not sure. I think I could do the Beatles.

What TV show could you not live without?

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I’ve become very fond of the characters, in particular the lead, played by Mariska Hargitay. I have a private crush on her.

Content from our partners
Why we must prioritise treating long-term health conditions
It’s time to reimagine the lifecycle of our devices
On the road to Cop28

Who would paint your portrait?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have my portrait painted a few times. My favourite is by the Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar and it hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. It doesn’t really look that much like me, but it has a special place in my heart.

What’s your theme tune?

I love Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. She is the queen of soul and I know every word.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A history professor at Cambridge, Arthur Hibbert, said to me: “You should not write history until you can hear the people speak.” If you don’t know enough about someone, you can’t tell their story.

What’s currently bugging you?

What’s currently bugging everyone: this trinity of abhorrence – Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi. The three-headed malign divinity that ruins our lives. I don’t have anything original to say about any of them, except that I can’t stand them.

What single thing would make your life better?

Rewriting history to erase Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi.

When were you happiest?

I recently went to Yankee Stadium and they won; I was pretty happy then. I went to a Rolling Stones concert a few weeks ago and I was pretty happy then, too.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

The only other thing I ever wanted to be was an actor. It still feels to me like an unscratched itch.

Are we all doomed?

Yeah, none of us gets out of here alive. But I don’t believe in the inexorability of doom. History makes very startling right-angle turns when you’re not expecting them. l

“Quichotte” by Salman Rushdie is published by Jonathan Cape

This article appears in the 06 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Out of control