Salman Rushdie Reflects on His Stabbing in a New Memoir

KNIFE: Meditations After an Attempted Murder, by Salman Rushdie

“So it’s you,” Salman Rushdie remembers thinking on the morning of Aug. 12, 2022, as a black-clad man, a “squat missile,” sprinted toward him on an auditorium stage in Chautauqua, N.Y. Rushdie thought: “Here you are.”

Thirty-three years had passed since the former supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa ordering the deaths of Rushdie and everyone involved in the publication of his 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses.” It had been at least two decades since Rushdie stopped running. He had been living an almost normal life in New York City. Socially, he had become a giraffe, eating leaves from the tops of the highest trees, but he was seen in dive bars too.

The black-clad man was an apparition from an older, more punitive world, one Rushdie thought had largely forgotten about him.

It is among that August morning’s ironies that Rushdie was in Chautauqua to participate in a discussion about keeping the world’s writers safe from harm. His attacker had piranhic energy. He also had a knife. Too stunned to try to protect himself, Rushdie only raised his left hand. At first, some in the audience thought the scuffle was performance art.

In his candid, plain-spoken and gripping new memoir, “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder,” Rushdie describes what happened next. The black-clad man, stabbing wildly, had 27 seconds alone with him. That is long enough, Rushdie points out, to read one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, including his favorite, No. 130. He does not print the poem, but I will, to provide a sense of the interminable horror. This is 27 seconds:

His attacker was at last subdued. Blood was everywhere, pooling. Rushdie’s clothes were cut off him. His legs were raised to keep what blood he had left flowing to his heart. He remembers feeling humiliated. “In the presence of serious injuries, your body’s privacy ceases to exist,” he writes. The reader considers it a good sign, for Rushdie’s health and for the tone of this humane and often witty book, that among his first thoughts was, “Oh, my nice Ralph Lauren suit.”

A member of his surgery team later tells him, “When they brought you in from the helicopter, we didn’t think we could save you.” Rushdie describes the appalling damage:

As bad as this was, he had been fortunate. A doctor says, “You’re lucky that the man who attacked you had no idea how to kill a man with a knife.”

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