Thursday, February 3, 2011 Interview with Salman Rushdie

Several weeks ago I had the honor of interviewing Booker-Prize winning author Salman Rushdie, whose latest book Luka and the Fire of Life came out recently, for a State of the Thing feature on You can also find the full text of this interview here.

It's been widely written that you wrote this book for your younger son, Milan, who wanted his own book after you wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories for your older son, almost 20 years ago. Does someone picking up Luka and the Fire of Life need to have read Haroun?
No. Luka was conceived as a stand-alone fiction. But the two books are companions, of course.

You've said that the book celebrates the electronic world but also cherishes power of narrative and stories; what impact do you think the electronic world has on storytelling? How will storytelling change?
There will be new ways of creating fictions, undoubtedly, but that's a question for someone half my age or even younger. It isn't going to be me who discovers the potential of the electronic world.

The story contains numerous, numerous references to mythologies from all over the world, and many references to popular culture icons like Doctor Who, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and more. Is popular culture the mythology of today, as gods and goddesses were the popular culture of the ancient world? I noticed that one of the only time travellers mentioned by name is Hank Morgan from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Why?
I think popular culture is a sort of modern mythology, though perhaps a somewhat impoverished one. Don't know why only Hank Morgan gets named. It just came out that way.

Ostensibly a story for children, the book's extensive wordplay, allusions, punning and verbal games present some tantalizing puzzles for adults as well. What audience did you have in mind as you wrote the book?
Everyone I could get.

You've been quoted as saying "Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts." The story of Captain Aag and the circus at the very beginning of the book is like the whole story in summary, but it's also a version of the story that happens in the real as opposed to magical world. Are the events in the magical world real, or are they like Dorothy's adventures in Oz- vivid, important and life-changing, but essentially illusory?
I think they are 100% real. And so are Dorothy's, by the way. I don't buy the whole it-was-just-a-dream thing.

An important theme in the book is the growth of the father-son relationship- how it evolves over time and how eventually the son replaces the father. Luka comes to believe that he must save his father to save the magical world, which his father created from his stories. But stories don't just stay with one person; they're passed down, and now that Luka knows the stories, does he really need his father anymore?
He needs his father because he loves him!

Why did you decide to use video games as a device for Luka's adventures? What about the medium interests you?
It was a way of using a new language to reinvigorate an ancient story, the story of the quest for fire. Also, I hadn't seen it done before, and that made it irresistible.

The book is a coming-of-age story as much as anything else, and in the end Luka must not so much fight the gods and goddesses of the magical world as convince them to help him; it's words that must ultimately determine his fate (and his father's). Is Luka going to be a storyteller like his father? What do you think his own imaginary world will look like?
I genuinely have no idea. Unlike Charles Dickens, I don't know what happens to my characters after the last page.

What are the myths and stories from your own childhood that resonate most with you? What kind of kid were you? Were you like Luka?
There are lots of wonderful animal fables in India, and it was fun to get to write a book full of fabulous animals.

You've been quoted as saying "Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one." What was irrational about the creation of this story?

What does your son Milan think of the book?
He likes it. What a relief!

Have you ever considered putting Luka and Haroun together in a story?
Yes. Maybe that will be a story I write somewhere down the line.

This is a family book in many ways; are there any "secrets" hidden in the book, like characters based on real people or family jokes in the text?
My son Milan has a dog called Bear. And he's left-handed, like Luka. And once on vacation he found a toy that was a hybrid creature - a bird with an elephant's head, like the Memory Birds in the book. He made me put it in.

What would you want a reader coming to your work for the first time through Luka to know about how this book reflects your values as a writer?
I would want them to enjoy it, that's all. If they do that it might tempt them to pick up another of my books.

What's on your bookshelf right now?
David Mitchell's novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet; and Reggie Nadelson's thriller, Blood Count.

You can see my review of Luka and the Fire of Life here.


Ruth @ Bookish Ruth said...

What an honor to be able to interview a living legend!

I love that this book and Haroun and the Sea of Stories were written for Sir Rushdie's sons. What a beautiful gift for them, and for us as readers, as well.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Everyone would love to interview someone like Rushdie. Though I have not read him, I love his books and would have to read him one day. This interview is insightful. Thanks Marie

Zibilee said...

I think it's amazing that you got the chance to interview Rushdie, Marie, and thank you for sharing this with us. He is just such an impressive author, and to be able to read this conversation has made my day! Fantastic interview!

Kerry said...

What an honor! That must have been spectacular. Great interview. The only Rushdie I've read is Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but I'd like to pick up more by him, especially after reading this.

bermudaonion said...

I'm so impressed Marie, but he's certainly a man of few words, isn't he? Great interview!

Rayna Eliana said...

What a great interview, Marie! You are quite lucky to have been able to interview him.

Lesley said...

Great interview and what a well-deserved honor, Marie!

Melissa said...

Wow, congrats on the interview opportunity! :) (for a man who writes such beautiful prose, he is a man of few words, lol)

Andi said...

Fantastic opportunity! Congratulations to you on a wonderful interview.

Kathleen said...

Fascinating interview. I like authors who answer succinctly. I've yet to read any of Rushdie, a shame I know!