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Salman Rushdie is speaking out for the first time after being hospitalized last year following a stabbing attack during a speaking engagement at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York.
In an interview with the New Yorker published Monday, Rushdie gave an update on his health, saying, “Well, you know, I’ve been better. But, considering what happened, I’m not so bad.”
After a suspect armed with a knife rushed the stage and stabbed the author multiple times at the speaking engagement, Rushdie’s agent shared that the author had lost sight in one eye, with his left hand badly damaged. The author also suffered from serious wounds to his neck and 15 more wounds to his chest and torso in the attack.
“As you can see, the big injuries are healed, essentially. I have feeling in my thumb and index finger and in the bottom half of the palm,” Rushdie told The New Yorker. “I’m doing a lot of hand therapy, and I’m told that I’m doing very well.”
When asked if he could type, Rushdie said, “Not very well, because of the lack of feeling in the fingertips of these fingers” and that he now writes “more slowly.”
In the months after the August attack, Rushdie admitted to having trouble sleeping due to nightmares. “There have been nightmares — not exactly the incident, but just frightening,” he detailed. “Those seem to be diminishing. I’m fine. I’m able to get up and walk around. When I say I’m fine, I mean, there’s bits of my body that need constant checkups. It was a colossal attack.”
He also admitted to finding it “very difficult to write” overall and when he sits down to do it “nothing happens” creatively. He explained, “I write, but it’s a combination of blankness and junk, stuff that I write and that I delete the next day. I’m not out of that forest yet, really.” But lately, he said he’s “just beginning to feel the return of the juices.”
Since the attack, Rushdie said he continues to see his therapist who he quipped “has a lot of work to do,” but he has always “tried very hard not to adopt the role of a victim.” “Then you’re just sitting there saying, Somebody stuck a knife in me! Poor me … Which I do sometimes think,” he said. “It hurts. But what I don’t think is: That’s what I want people reading the book to think. I want them to be captured by the tale, to be carried away.” (The author’s new novel Victory City releases on Feb. 7 and was finished a month before he was attacked.)
Prior to the attack last August, Rushdie had spent years in hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 edict, a fatwa, calling for his death after his novel The Satanic Verses was published, with the novel considered blasphemous.
When reflecting on threats and criticisms he’s received over the years, Rushdie noted how now the response has seemed to change. “Now that I’ve almost died, everybody loves me … That was my mistake, back then. Not only did I live but I tried to live well. Bad mistake. Get 15 stab wounds, much better,” he told the New Yorker.
Last August, Rushdie was onstage at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York when the alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, rushed the stage and began stabbing the author with a knife — he has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and attempted murder. After the attack, Rushdie was briefly put on a ventilator to recover when being treated at a Pennsylvania hospital.
Rushdie described the alleged attacker as an “idiot” but said he didn’t know what to think of him because “I don’t know him.” “All I’ve seen is his idiotic interview in the New York Post. Which only an idiot would do,” he said. “I know that the trial is still a long way away. It might not happen until late next year. I guess I’ll find out some more about him then.”
After receiving well wishes and tributes from a myriad of authors and public figures after the attack, Rushdie said, “It’s very nice that everybody was so moved by this” and he “had never thought about how people would react if I was assassinated, or almost assassinated.” He added, “I’m lucky. What I really want to say is that my main overwhelming feeling is gratitude.”
When asked if he regrets letting his guard down after moving to New York, Rushdie said that though that’s still a question he asks himself he doesn’t “know the answer to it.” He explained, “I did have more than 20 years of life. So, is that a mistake? Also, I wrote a lot of books. The Satanic Verses was my fifth published book — my fourth published novel — and this is my twenty-first. So, three-quarters of my life as a writer has happened since the fatwa. In a way, you can’t regret your life.”
As for whether he was upset with the security at the event, the author reiterated, “I’ve tried very hard over these years to avoid recrimination and bitterness. I just think it’s not a good look. One of the ways I’ve dealt with this whole thing is to look forward and not backwards. What happens tomorrow is more important than what happened yesterday.”
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