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.

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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.

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.

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 20 September 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Out of control

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