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Languages of Truth by Salman Rushdie

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

Much has been written about Salman Rushdie (or Sir Salman Rushdie as he was made in 2007 although doesn’t use the moniker), a favourite is a critic who characterised Rushdie’s writing as “a riddle covered in an enigma, encased by a poem and wrapped in a narrative”. This Russian doll-esque analogy does hold some water for some of the novels and stories in Rushdie’s oeuvre without any doubt, but this collection of essays has an accessibility to it. Perhaps it is the mix of speeches, letters, interviews and essays that comprises the text that adds to this approachability. Yes, it has its erudite moments where he opts more for style over substance, but those are few and far between.

The ideas that are curated throughout this selection of writing from 2003-2020 are broken into four parts and chronicles some insightful views on historical events over this time period. Great writers such as Shakespeare, Cervantes, Beckett and Morrison are given air time throughout the collection with personal insight and professional critique. Rushdie’s thoughts on figures like Osama Bin Laden are laid bare (hint: they aren’t all what you would expect) alongside Hans Christian Andersen (hint: more what you would expect).

Rushdie, on several occasions, speaks of his love for fairy and folk stories and the impact it had on him both as a child listening to the telling of said stories by his parents and teachers, then later in life as he wrote his own versions, often for the benefit of his own children.

Many of the pieces are actually speeches that have been transcribed and adjusted to fit more of the essay genre - but they retain the speech quality and read as if Rushdie is narrating them in some cavernous library of leather-bound books, such is the gravitas of the language and the subject matter. Yet, despite this literary feel, it never loses its humanity. Rather, it explores what it is to be connected with other humans. What it is to be human.

His dabbles in the politics of India and the US are written with an air of authority but do sometimes feel a little naïve and almost, and a little surprisingly, contrived. Replaying some pretty well-worn narratives – albeit with more dexterous literary prose. A small criticism for an otherwise flawless collection of writings over a 17-year period.

Salman Rushdie is a literary genius and with a back catalogue that earned him the title ‘Best of the Booker’ - a unique prize celebrating the 40th anniversary of the prestigious award - and a firm place (in my opinion only) in the Western Canon of literature, although Harold Bloom may disagree. The literary mind of Rushdie is almost without parallel in this age, perhaps thinkers such as Noam Chomsky may be at a similar level, but few cover the breadth and depth of Rushdie’s wordplay, style, fluency and coherence. He is the definition of a master. It’s almost absurd to think that he almost didn’t follow a desire to be a writer and settle for the tiresome humdrum of a legal office. We, as a result, are better off for his life decisions.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Publisher: Jonathan Cape, RRP $40


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