Salman Rushdie’s Brutal Stabbing Becomes Resilience Story in New Memoir, ‘Knife’

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In the wake of an eye-blinding and near-fatal attack that shocked the world, celebrated author Salman Rushdie opens his latest book, “Knife,” with an arresting recount of the violent incident. The memoir, brought vividly to life pages this Tuesday, is the first project borne out of Rushdie’s creative faculty since his stabbing in 2022.

On that fateful sunny morn of August 12, 2022, a young man wielding a knife struck Rushdie, just as he stepped onto the stage of the amphitheater in Chautauqua, upstate New York, advocating for the safety and protection of writers. As tragic as this event was, Rushdie was quick to preserve it in bestseller-bound pages fewer than two hundred in number — a rather short volume by the standards of an author known for his lavish narratives.

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“Knife” earns distinction as Rushdie’s first memoir since “Joseph Anton” in 2012, where he recounts living under the shadow of a death sentence, a fatwa, issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini due to perceived blasphemy in Rushdie’s controversial book, “The Satanic Verses.” The fatwa forced Rushdie into seclusion under perpetual protection. Years later, the constant threat seemed to have ebbed, and Rushdie had come to relish a life laden with travel, social interaction, and the creative liberty reflected in his recent works of fiction such as “Quichotte” and “Victory City.”

Of, course, “Knife,” subtitled “Meditations After an Attempted Murder,” is no random collection of musings. It delves into the contemplations that surfaced after the attack: Rushdie’s wondering about what he perceived to be the anachronistic reemergence of his lingering threat, a ‘murderous ghost from the past’, amidst a peace he’d come to relish.

Punctuated with raw and shocking descriptions of the assault, “Knife” stands unique among Rushdie’s works, not merely for its recollections of the violence that transformed his life, but for the sheer resilience synonymous with its author. It traces the author’s transformative journey from a pool of his own blood to the stage where he’d been assaulted – a triumphant return after a harrowing interval of thirteen months, now equipped with new lenses, both literally and metaphorically, of ‘wounded happiness’.

But “Knife” isn’t just a tale of vicious assault. It bears testimony to the numerous facets Rushdie’s life has come to encapsulate over the recent years. A significant aspect has been his romance and subsequent marriage to poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Their encounter at a PEN America event in 2017 marked the beginning of a relationship imbued with warmth and a bond that stood strong even in testing times. While residing in New York City, Griffiths learned of the grievous incident, and without delay, she took a private flight to be by Rushdie’s side, bracing herself for the worst possible news: that he might not survive.

In the shadow of his injury and recovery, news of a prominent writer and a close friend, Martin Amis, battling cancer, added to Rushdie’s tribulations. As part of a coveted British clique that included celebrated authors like Christopher Hitchens and Ian McEwan, Rushdie shared a special connection with Amis, who passed away in May 2023.

In the memoir, Rushdie refers to his attacker, Hadi Matar, as “The A,” short for “The Ass.” Some considerable ink is spent on imagining a dialogue with his attacker, though Rushdie clarifies he isn’t searching for an apology, but a perspective to understand what went through Matar’s mind post the assault.

Despite the traumatic experiences, Rushdie’s narrative exudes a sense of positivity, resilience and, healing. His voyage to wellness saw him regain his strength, mental and physical. Back in the public sphere he enjoyed so much, he found solace in the overwhelming support flooding in, not just from friends, but also from powerful personalities such as President Joe Biden who lauded Rushdie’s commitment to “sharing ideas without fear.” For Rushdie, the showering of kind words was a solace that eased the loneliness resulting from his brush with death and affirmed a sense of validation for his life’s work.