Twenty-three years after he was "sentenced to death" by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for criticising Islam, Salman Rushdie is telling his tale. The author of The Satanic Verses, the novel that earned him a fatwa from the Supreme Leader of Iran, has written an account of his experiences of living in hiding. It is called Joseph Anton – A Memoir, and is out on Tuesday, published by Random House. The title comes from the secret pseudonym he lived under, which he created out of the names of two of his favourite writers, Conrad and Chekhov.
The Satanic Verses was Rushdie's fourth novel, and was published in Britain in September 1988. It won the Whitbread Award two months later. The book was instantly banned in India, Bangladesh and many other countries, and there were public book burnings in Bolton. The wave of anger from Islamic communities culminated on 14 February 1989, when a fatwa ordering all Muslims to kill Rushdie was broadcast on Radio Tehran. Rushdie was given 24-hour armed protection by the British government, and relations between the countries deteriorated. Thousands of Americans wore "I am Salman Rushdie" badges in solidarity.
Rushdie's first wife, Marianne Wiggins, said that in the first few months of the fatwa, they moved 56 times, typically once every three days. Six months later, they separated as a result of the strain. They divorced in 1993.
Ahead of his new book, Rushdie wrote a letter to the independent booksellers of America, thanking them for promoting The Satanic Verses in their windows, when bigger stores wouldn't, saying they "courageously stood up for freedom against censorship".
Though The Satanic Verses made Rushdie a household name, he had already achieved literary greatness with his second novel, Midnight's Children about India's transition from a British colony to independence. It uses a magical realism, of which Rushdie is considered a leading proponent. Published in 1981, it won that year's Booker Prize, and also won the 2008 Booker of Bookers, held to mark 40 years of the prize. Rushdie has reworked it for the stage, and a film adaptation is being released in Britain on 10 October.
Rushdie was born in Mumbai on 19 June 1947. His father was a Cambridge-educated lawyer, and his mother a teacher. He went to school in India, then Rugby College in England, before reading history at King's College, Cambridge, where he acted in the Footlights. After graduating in 1968, he relocated to Pakistan, where his family had moved, and worked for a time in television. He returned to England to work as a freelance copywriter for the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, which he later said helped develop his imagination for when he wrote Midnight's Children.
Rushdie has published nine novels, two children's books, and several short stories and collections of non-fiction; he was knighted in June 2007 for services to literature.
Despite his reputation as a literary heavyweight, Rushdie does have a sense of humour. He made a surprise cameo appearance in the 2001 Bridget Jones film; Bridget asks him where the loos are at a literary book party. He is also a regular on Twitter.