Salman Rushdie in Profile
In the first few pages of Salman Rushdie’s new novel, “Shalimar the Clown,” a man tells his daughter a bedtime story, a tale of animal-headed humans and flying monsters. But Max Ophuls is no ordinary man, and the story is not so much a children’s story as a parable about power that lyrically describes the deals one must make with various devils if one is to enter the house of power. Rushdie has had years to think about power — the power of an ayatollah in Iran, the power of right-wing Muslims in Britain, the power of agents from Scotland Yard, and the power he now possesses, as a result of the fame that found him in February of 1989.
When he was younger, Rushdie told the audience at a Portland appearance last week, he wanted to have some power because he believed a writer should be able to use it to speak out on the big issues of the day. He could never have imagined how he would come about his own power. “Be careful what you wish for,” he joked.
Due to space limitations, I couldn’t fit all of the many interesting notes I had made during the interview, among which the fact that Rushdie has considered writing under a pseudonym. He told me an anecdote about how Doris Lessing had tried it herself in the 1980s. She sent a manuscript under the name Jane Somers to her publisher, who then called her and said, “Doris, what are you trying to pull?” Nevertheless, the publisher decided to honor her wishes. When the book appeared, critics said that it read “like a bad Doris Lessing novel.”
Although Rushdie didn’t say as much, he may well have ruled out the idea of a pseudonym. Still, a change is definitely in the cards for him. At the behest of his eight-year-old son, his next novel is likely to be a children’s book, like his earlier Haroun and the Sea of Stories.