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Salman Rushdie Is Not Who You Think He Is

Salman Rushdie

In his new memoir, “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder,” the renowned author reflects on surviving a brutal attack in 2022 — and living in the shadow of the fatwa ordered against him decades ago.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio App, Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

I feel as if I’ve always known who Salman Rushdie is. He sat in my consciousness as the author of this eerie-sounding novel called “The Satanic Verses,” a novel so somehow dangerous, he had to go into hiding after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, said Rushdie and anyone involved in its publication should be killed for blaspheming Islam.

In August of 2022, more than 30 years after the fatwa, a fanatic with a knife attacked and tried to kill Rushdie. He survived, though he lost an eye. His latest book, “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder,” is about the attack and its aftermath. But it’s also about his life. It’s about his marriage. It’s about his children. And it’s about the invention of other versions of him that became more real in the world than he was, other versions of him that almost got him killed.

This is what I now understand after reading “Knife,” what I now understand after I went and read, for the first time, “The Satanic Verses”: I have never known who Salman Rushdie is. And maybe not just him. How many people out there do I wrongly think that I know?

Rushdie and I talked for an episode of my podcast. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Ezra Klein: I want to begin with a story you mention a little bit offhandedly in the book: “The Shadow” by Hans Christian Andersen.

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