Photo: View of Florence from the Basilica of San Miniato
The French arts magazine TRANSFUGE has a long and exclusive interview in its October 2008 issue with Salman Rushdie: ‘Salman Rushdie’, interview with Alexandre Thitges, No 23, October 2008, 46-55. The interview concerns both his latest novel ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ (publication of which is imminent in French) and more general matters. The magazine describes the new novel as ‘un très grand Rushdie’ (‘a very great Rushdie’): this I beg leave to doubt (cf. my review of the novel, 2 Aug 08 entry on this blog), but the interview is certainly of interest to those wishing or needing to know more about the book’s genesis and intentions.
I summarise the salient points:
ON ‘THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE’
49 – Rushdie claims that the two worlds of fifteenth/sixteenth century India and Italy narrated in his novel – Aqbar’s Mughal empire and Machiavelli’s Florence – have many and surprising things in common, and that the book is about the fantasies of both about each other and those fantasies’ becoming reality – ‘C’est le sujet central de mon livre: que se passerait-il si l’on pouvait se réveiller dans le rêve de l’autre?’ (‘This is the central subject of my book: what would happen if one could wake up in the other’s dream?’); 53 – he confirms the interviewer’s comment that in the novel Florence and Fatehpur Sikri are ‘les deux faces de la même pièce’ (‘two sides of the same coin’); 54 – he says that from his contemplation of the two cultures’ similarities ‘il m’est venu à l’espirit que les conflits humains ne provenaient pas tant des différences ou de l’aliénation que des ressemblances’ (‘it came into my mind that human conflicts were the result less of differences and of alienation than of resemblances’).
52 – He states that the new novel is very carefully researched, the product of the reading he did on the period in the intervals of writing the three preceding novels. He agrees with the interview that ‘Enchantress’ should be considered a ‘historical novel’, and adds: ‘tous mes romans ont des rapports très étroits avec l’Histoire’ (‘all my novels are very closely related to History’).
53 – Rushdie recalls that he had already compared the Mughals (specifically the emperor Babur) with Machiavelli in the review of Babur’s memoirs which he published in 2002 (reprinted in his essay collection ‘Step Across This Line’).
ON OTHER SUBJECTS
49 – Rushdie declares that he can no longer write about Bombay because it has changed so much that the city he knew and evoked in his earlier books no longer exists.
50 – The interview calls him a ‘cinephile’, a label he accepts. He reminisces of how as a student at Cambridge he used to frequent the Arts Cinema and consumed endless art films by the likes of Fellini, Antonioni, Godard, Bergman and Buñuel, as well as Asian directors such as Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray. He implies, citing Fellini, that cinema is as big an influence as literature on his writing.
51 – Rushdie refers to the ‘retour de la religion’ (‘return of religion’) in recent times and says this was ‘une grande surprise’ (‘a great surprise’) for him (UNDERSTATEMENT SURELY?!) : ‘lorsque j’étais jeune, dans les années 60 et 70, la religion était en train de perdre du terrain’ (‘when I was young, in the 60s and 70s, religion was losing ground’).
55 – Asked what his next book will be, he says he is writing a children’s story, following in the wake of ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’, but this time for his younger son aged eleven …