The famous novelist of Indian origin, naturalized American and who lives in New York, expresses himself in a long article published Monday by the newspaper of the cultural elites, The New Yorker, on the eve of the release in the United States of his last novel, "Victory City", the "epic tale of a woman" in the 14th century.

His exclusive confession to The New Yorker's editor, writer David Remnick, is titled "The Challenge of Salman Rushdie" and accompanied by an hour-long audio interview and a dark black-and-white photo of the 75-year-old intellectual, scarred face and wearing glasses with a black lens on his right eye.

In front of this shot which he judged on Twitter "spectacular and powerful", Rushdie published another, in color, showing him with the same black lens of glasses, but looking more peaceful.

Loss of sight of one eye

His literary agent Andrew Wylie revealed in October that he had lost the sight of one eye and the use of one hand.

While “Victory City” was completed before his August 12, 2022 attack in the northern United States, Salman Rushdie says he “found it very, very difficult to write”.

"I sit down to write and nothing happens; I write, but it's a mixture of emptiness and nonsense, things that I write and erase the next day", confides the writer who has lived since 1989 under the death threat of a fatwa issued by Iran, after the publication of his book "The Satanic Verses".

"I'm not out of the woods yet", he breathes, warning his interviewer: "PTSD exists, you know", using in English the acronym defining post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Even "if his recovery progresses," his agent told The Guardian newspaper last week, Rushdie will not make any public promotion for this 15th novel, which comes out Tuesday in the United States and Thursday in the United Kingdom.

Adored by the elites in the West, hated by Muslim extremists in Iran or Pakistan -- some rejoiced in his attack in August -- Rushdie is an icon of freedom of expression and still defends with erudition and his flamboyant style. the power of words in "Victory City".

The book tells the epic of Pampa Kampana, a young orphan girl endowed with magical powers by a goddess, who will create the city of Bisnaga -- literally "Victory City".

With the mission of "giving women an equal place in a patriarchal world", according to the publisher Penguin Random House, its heroine and poet, who will live nearly 250 years, will also be the witness of "the pride of those who are in power", will witness the rise and then the destruction of Bisnaga and suffer exile.

"The winning words"

Her legacy to the world, however, will remain her epic tale, which she buries as a message for future generations.

The novel concludes: "Words are the only victors".

In the New York Times, the American writer Colum McCann, friend of Rushdie, affirms that he "says something very deep in + Victory City +".

"He says 'you can never take away people's fundamental ability to tell stories'. In the face of danger, even in the face of death, he manages to say that all we have is the power to tell stories" .

Born in Bombay in June 1947, just before the partition of India, into a secular Muslim bourgeois family, Rushdie published his first novel "Grimus" in 1975 and became a world celebrity in the 1980s with "The Midnight Children" which won him the Booker Prize in the United Kingdom.

Despite the Iranian fatwa never lifted, Rushdie felt freer and had resumed a life in society in recent years in New York.

On August 12, he was invited to a literary conference in Chautauqua, a small cultural and bucolic town popular with retirees in northwestern New York State, near Great Lake Erie.

At the time of speaking, a young American of Lebanese origin suspected of being sympathizers with Shiite Iran had thrown himself on him, armed with a knife, and had stabbed him a dozen times.

"I've known better but seeing what happened, I'm not so bad," says Salman Rushdie today, adding, however, "to hold (his attacker) responsible" for his state of health.

"Victory City" will be released in September in France under its original title, by Actes Sud.


© 2023 AFP