Monthly Archives: February 2023
We Are Huge Seinfeld Fans
We own every episode. We watch two a night so we can sleep well. We laugh so hard that we forget this crazy world.
Happy Birthday Pauline!
Happy Birthday Pauline Grinberg Shender at the very exclusive private restaurant Haiku in Wynwood. Members only. See the menu on the bottom. Totally unique. We loved every one of Pauline’s friends. Thank you for inviting us.
Raquel Welch, a Lifetime of Looks
Dedicated to those who didn’t read this issue of the NY Times. Our PR agency, HWH PR, represented Ms. Welch’s exercise videos. I can barely remember the assignment but I will never forget our first meeting with her, and all of the other marketing agencies that were going to be involved with the project. Everyone wanted to meet her, so each agency had five to six representatives show up. She walked into the conference room, saw 25 folks in attendance, and threw a fit. She knew that each agency should have only sent one person to the meeting and the rest of the us were just hangers on to rub elbows with a Hollywood star. She wouldn’t start the meeting until there was only one person, per agency, in the room. I was one of the folks thrown out. My account executive stayed. It was sort of humiliating, but she was right. I don’t remember much about about the year long assignment, so that must mean it went well. She was gorgeous.
From cave woman to “Woman of the Year,” Ms. Welch defied expectations.
By Jim Windolf
Raquel Welch rose to prominence with the B-movie epic “One Million Years B.C.,” a film in which early human beings are seen battling a menagerie of creatures, including triceratops, brontosaurus and wild boars.
The shoot gave her something of a rude awakening. As Ms. Welch recalled in her 2010 memoir, “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage,” she approached the director, Don Chaffey, on her first day and said, “Listen, Don, I’ve been studying the script and I’ve been thinking — ”
He cut her off. “You were thinking?” he said. “Don’t.”
“He was the first in a long line of producers and directors who didn’t give a rat’s ass what I thought,” Ms. Welch wrote. “For years, I felt like the Rodney Dangerfield of sex symbols. I got no respect.”
“One Million Years B.C.” may have been ludicrous, but it made her a star, largely because of the film poster, which depicted her as an indomitable figure towering over the fearsome beasts in the background. Ms. Welch understood the power of the image, writing, “In the photograph I look so convincing, so formidable standing there astride the rocky landscape in that partially shredded animal skin.”
She was invariably described as a sex symbol, though she never posed nude for the camera in any film or photo shoot, despite the efforts of Playboy magazine and various producers. She had a key role in “Bandolero!” alongside Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin and went on to play a woman seeking revenge in another western, “Hannie Caulder,” an inspiration for the Quentin Tarantino films “Kill Bill” and “Django Unchained.” After portraying a struggling single mother in the roller derby drama “Kansas City Bomber,” she found a home in the comedic action of a pair of Richard Lester movies, “The Three Musketeers” and its sequel, “The Four Musketeers.”
She moved beyond film sets, developing a nightclub act that played to sold-out crowds in Las Vegas and became the basis for a CBS special, “Really, Raquel.” Through the 1970s, she was a regular on variety shows, singing the same song, “I’m a Woman,” with both Cher on “The Cher Show” and Miss Piggy on “The Muppet Show.”
In 1981, she had a breakthrough when she replaced Lauren Bacall as the star of “Woman of the Year” on Broadway. Writing in The New York Times, the critic Mel Gussow called her a “show stopper,” adding that her performance was “in all respects marked by show-business know-how.” She stayed in the role for two years, her cave woman past a distant memory.
William Greenberg Jr., Baker Who Sweetened Manhattan, Dies at 97
I bought Eliot a William Greenberg cake for his 30th birthday. It cost $100 at the time but it was a masterpiece. We had a party at our east side co-op and everyone in attendance looked at the cake like it was a piece of art. We ate it anyway.
William Greenberg Jr., Baker Who Sweetened Manhattan, Dies at 97
It’s Scary To Find Out How Many Military People Suffer From Mental Illness
Most Americans who never served in the military have no idea what goes on day-to-day once you are enlisted. While we are forever grateful to the men and women who protect our country around the clock, many folks in the special forces suffer terrible mental illness because they were just not prepared to handle their new responsibilities, no matter how well they have been trained. Others became deeply depressed because of sexual attacks and verbal abuses.
I started representing The Warrior Connection, McKinney, TX, for public relations, a few months ago. I have been flabbergasted by some of the stories I have heard from former soldiers. Many admitted to me they were contemplating or attempted suicide.
I listened to their stories in horror. We feel sorry for ourselves when we have to sit at our desks and work, or don’t like the TV program selections on TV. We have no idea of the torment that military men and women go through. Most of them will not discuss the details when they get home.
I happened to hear the torment because I was required to interview dozens of them and find out how The Warrior Correction cured their woes. Some of the stories I heard were unbearable to listen to.
I want to share them with you and then explain how The Warrior Connection brought many of them back to a normal existence.
Please let me know if you want to discuss.
Founded in 2009, The Warrior Connection is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that strives to end Veteran suicide and repair family relationships through proven holistic residential retreats for Veterans and military spouses.
WE ARE TWC
The Warrior Connection strives to end Veteran suicide, provide support, and repair family relationships through proven holistic residential retreats for Veterans and military spouses.
TWC provides residential retreats and services to veterans and their families. We gather together to heal the invisible injuries that incurred while in uniform.
The Warrior Connection (TWC) understands the inner journey that continues when the war is brought home. We understand the journey of military sexual trauma survivors. We understand this journey because we are veterans. We are military spouses. We are advocates for the veteran community. We are a connection of warriors working together to improve the overall well-being of our brothers and sisters that have served.
We serve Veterans of all eras from all 50 states at no cost, thanks to our donors, sponsors, and volunteers. The TWC mission continues until we get to ZERO Veterans lost from post-traumatic stress (PTS).
Address: P.O. Box 6308, McKinney, TX 75071
Sumner Redstone in Love: The Cringey Sexcapades of a Horny Billionaire
The elderly media titan flexed his MTV ownership, rang his grandson at 3 a.m. for hookups with new women, and rewarded companions with stock options and TV shows. A wild exclusive excerpt from the new book Unscripted.
By JAMES B. STEWART and RACHEL ABRAMS
In 2008 Malia Andelin, a twenty‑six‑year‑old makeup artist living in Laguna Beach, was, like so many Americans at the time, supplementing her income by buying and flipping real estate using borrowed money. Then the financial crisis struck, credit abruptly evaporated, and that was the end of that. Andelin was looking for another source of income when a friend recommended she try working as a flight attendant on a private jet. Part of her training was a self‑defense course, where she met two pilots who recommended she work with them at the aviation company that staffed the CBS and Viacom planes.
Slim and blond, Andelin had grown up in Utah, the youngest of eight children in a straitlaced Mormon family. She’d never flown professionally, but she was willing to give it a try. On her first outing one of her passengers was Robert Downey Jr.
Andelin liked the work and seemed to have an aptitude for it. Inevitably the day came when Sumner Redstone was on board. In late November, little more than a month after he filed for divorce from Paula, Sumner was flying from New York back to Van Nuys Airport outside Los Angeles with his friend Arnold Kopelson, a producer and CBS board member, and his wife, Anne. While waiting for takeoff, Andelin went into the passenger cabin and asked Sumner if she could help him with his seat belt.
“Who the fuck are you?” he asked.
“Sumner, stop,” Anne Kopelson interjected.
Andelin hardly knew how to respond. “I’m Malia,” she said. “I work on the plane.” She reminded him she’d flown with him once before.
“I’d remember a pretty face like yours,” he replied.
That angered her. “Who the fuck are you?” she said, and left the cabin.
That she could give as good as she got seemed to drive Sumner wild. He buzzed for her constantly once they were in the air.
“I hear women like to be spanked,” Sumner told her at one point. “Do you like to be spanked?”
Anne Kopelson tried in vain to silence him. Arnold said nothing.
“Please don’t sue me for sexual harassment,” Sumner told Andelin, and then laughed.
Sumner pelted Andelin with inappropriate comments for the rest of the flight, and she grew increasingly upset. He asked repeatedly for her address and phone number. She refused.
Available from Amazon and Bookshop.
The pilots were aghast but not surprised—Sumner had made a habit of harassing women on the corporate jets and then getting them fired. After the plane landed, one of the pilots pulled Andelin aside.
“I’m probably not going to see you again,” he said. “I know how he is. We all know how he is.”
Despite her refusal, Sumner had no trouble getting Andelin’s phone number, presumably from the aviation company. He called incessantly— so often she turned off her phone. He left messages proposing they have dinner to discuss the menu on the corporate plane. She ignored him. Meanwhile, she wasn’t getting any assignments despite her persistent requests for more work. Sumner seemed to be dangling the prospect of getting her job back if she’d join him for dinner.
“Some say I created Mission: Impossible, and some say that this mission is impossible,” Sumner told her in one voice message. “But I made this mission possible. And I know that you’re risk averse and you wouldn’t talk to me on the plane, but I know that if you called me back and you were a risk‑taker, this call could perhaps change your life.”
The message infuriated Andelin. How dare he leave her suggestive voice mails after she’d refused to give him her number and he’d blacklisted her from working on the plane? She called him and left a message. “Who do you think you are? This is not okay. I just want to know when I can have my job back.”
Sumner’s driver finally showed up at her house. Would she have dinner with Sumner? Just once?
Nothing Andelin had done or said had deterred Sumner. She worried: given his enormous wealth and power, to what lengths might he go? Perhaps it would be easier to accept his invitation, at least once. Maybe she’d get her job back.
She eventually agreed to have dinner with Sumner. Something told her she’d come to regret it.
From the Zagat guide Sumner picked a restaurant in Newport Beach, not far from where Andelin lived. When the day arrived, Sumner picked Andelin up and had his driver take them there. She rarely drank alcohol, but that evening she sipped a glass of wine to calm her nerves.
After they left the restaurant, Andelin got in the back seat and Sumner slid in next to her. But instead of taking his seat in front, the driver lingered outside, leaving them alone in the car. Suddenly Sumner lunged at her and tried to get his hand under her blouse. Andelin pushed him away and managed to open the door and get out. She was in shock. She later didn’t remember how she got home.
The next day Sumner called and sent Andelin an email, which she ignored. Then his driver showed up and told her Sumner wanted to apologize in person. Various thoughts crossed her mind. Her first reaction was that she never wanted to see him again. But as she wrote in her journal at the time, Sumner had so much money and power he’d crush her eventually. She didn’t really feel she had a choice.
She reluctantly agreed to see him again.
Carlos Martinez, Sumner’s house manager for over ten years, greeted her when she arrived at Sumner’s mansion. He tried to reassure her. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “I’m here. You’re not alone. You’re going to be okay. He just wants to give you the world.” But while Sumner was showing her his fish tank, she felt sick and thought she might faint.
Somehow she got through the evening. The next time Sumner invited her, she accepted. After one of her subsequent visits, Martinez gave her a check for $20,000, the amount, he said, she would have been paid had she worked on the jet that month.
She didn’t get any more work as a flight attendant. After about a month, Sumner told her there was no need for her to work on the plane. Instead, she could accompany him to dinners and join him on the red carpet at the many Hollywood premieres, galas, and benefits he attended.
Soon Andelin was a fixture at Sumner’s mansion, usually having dinner with him every week. As he did with others, Sumner often disparaged his children, Brent and Shari, when confiding in Andelin. Occasionally she had to sit through father‑daughter visits, which she found awkward and tense. After a dinner with Sumner and Shari, Andelin shared a car with Shari, who cried during the trip.
One day Andelin was at the mansion when Shari brought Sumner some homemade biscotti. As Shari was leaving, she pulled Andelin aside. “You’re so sweet,” Shari told her. “I don’t know what your relationship is with my dad, but one thing you need to know: always speak your mind to him. Never back down, and always say how you feel.”
Andelin felt Shari was one of the few people around Sumner who was nice to her.
At its annual global conference in April 2009, the Milken Institute paired celebrity CNN host and interviewer Larry King with eighty‑five‑year‑old (about to turn eighty‑six) Sumner. King titled his “conversation” with Sumner for “If You Could Live Forever …. ”
The room at the Beverly Hilton was packed. Clad in a navy suit and an open‑necked blue shirt, Sumner began by asserting, “I have the vital statistics of a twenty‑year‑old,” a claim somewhat belied by the substantial paunch visible at his waist. “Even twenty‑year‑old men get older. Not me. My doctor says I’m the only man who’s reversed it. I eat and drink every antioxidant known to man. I exercise fifty minutes every day.”
However amusing the audience may have found Sumner’s claim to immortality, it reflected something more than just vanity. He had confided in Andelin that the prospect of death terrified him because he’d face judgment and punishment for his many sins—a reckoning that thus far he’d escaped in life.
“How old are you?” King asked.
“Sixty‑five,” Sumner replied. The audience laughed.
“Realistically,” King pressed him, “how old are you?”
“Sixty‑five,” he insisted.
Sumner said he felt better than he had at age twenty.
“You have not slowed down sexually?” King asked. “No, I haven’t.”
If anything, that appeared to be an understatement. Even as he courted Andelin with money, gifts, and attention, he was dating Rohini Singh, who at age nineteen had been the subject of an embarrassingly detailed 2001 Los Angeles Magazine cover story: “Hooking Up: Sex, Status and the Tribal Rituals of Young Hollywood.” At Sumner’s insistence, CBS’s Showtime hired Singh that summer despite a hiring freeze at the cable network. Sumner showered her with Viacom stock, as well as a reported $18 million in payments.
The same year Sumner also started seeing Terry Holbrook, a brunette former Ford model and Houston Oilers cheerleader. Sumner bought her a $2.5 million house and paid for her stable of show horses. Manuela Herzer, who’d become one of Redstone’s live-in companions, maintained that Sumner paid Holbrook $4,500 a month in cash and those and other payments eventually amounted to $7 million. He also made Holbrook a beneficiary of his trust.
Over the years Sumner amended his trust more than forty times to add and remove numerous beneficiaries, many of them women he dated. Dauman, who as a co-trustee of Sumner’s trust was aware of many of the gifts, acknowledged that “several” women received over $20 million each, “a lot” of women received over $10 million, and “many, many” women received over $1 million.
In the spring of 2010 The Daily Beast’s Peter Lauria reported Sumner was dining at Dan Tana’s with Les Moonves, his wife Julie Chen Moonves, and a “tall, tan, fembot‑like blonde, young enough to be his granddaughter.” The “fembot” was Heather Naylor, Sumner’s latest fixation and the lead singer of a largely unknown girl group called the Electric Barbarellas. Sumner was pushing a reluctant Viacom‑owned MTV to develop a reality series featuring the group’s quest for stardom, and he also wanted CBS to promote them.
Moonves dreaded these requests, but Sumner was his boss. Clad in satin hot pants and singing wildly off pitch, the Barbarellas made their CBS network debut on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on March 27, 2011. The operative word was late: their appearance came close to the end of the show at 1:30 a.m., when Moonves could only hope few people would be watching.
Lauria reported that Sumner spent half a million dollars flying the Barbarellas to New York for MTV auditions and had pushed the reality series into development over MTV executives’ strident objections. They told Lauria the show was “unwatchable and the music just as bad.” Even Dauman tried to kill the project, but “I won’t be defied,” Sumner insisted.
The mildly embarrassing episode might have remained largely confined to Hollywood insiders, had Sumner not picked up the phone and called Lauria—not to deny the story but to try to unmask Lauria’s Viacom source, who Sumner speculated was a “young, male executive” who worked for MTV.
“You will be thoroughly protected,” Sumner assured Lauria in the call, which Lauria taped in its entirety and the Beast made available to the public. “We’re not going to hurt this guy. We just want to sit him down and find out why he did what he did. You will not in any way be revealed. You will be well‑rewarded and well‑protected.”
Lauria refused to disclose his source and instead turned the en‑ counter into another story, which, thanks to Sumner’s direct involvement, got even more media attention. New York Times media columnist David Carr called the tape “a classic, a must‑hear document of mogul prerogative in full cry.”
When Viacom’s Carl Folta saw the story, he told Dauman, “You’re not going to believe this.”
Folta asked Sumner about it, and Sumner denied making any such call.
“Sumner, they’ve got it on tape!” Folta exclaimed.
“Then fix it,” Sumner said.
The Electric Barbarellas debuted in MTV’s 2011 lineup and, thanks in part to the publicity surrounding Sumner, attracted nearly a million viewers. The “premiere was the #1 original cable series across all TV,” according to an email from an MTV executive to Naylor. But the show attracted some scathing reviews—a “hypercontrived, superstaged, and hair‑extensioned mess,” as a New York magazine critic put it.
Ratings rapidly fell off, and MTV canceled the show.
Redstone stayed in touch with Naylor, speaking with her by phone three to five times a week, according to Naylor. He encouraged her Hollywood aspirations and showered her with Viacom stock and other payments that totaled over $20 million, according to Herzer.
“Some who have been close to Redstone said he has long since crossed into unconscious self‑parody, making graphic sexual comments over social or business meals,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote. Said one executive: “He acts like a 15‑year‑old kid at summer camp.”
In the fall of 2010, Brandon Korff, Sumner’s twenty‑five‑year‑old grandson, enlisted Patti Stanger, the “Millionaire Matchmaker” of the Bravo reality TV hit, to find a suitable romantic match for his grandfather. Sumner’s serial dating—not to mention the accompanying bonanza of lavish gifts—was driving him crazy.
Brandon was the second of Shari Redstone’s three children from her marriage to Ira Korff, whom she’d divorced in 1992. Notwithstanding his troubled relationships with his children, Sumner doted on his grandchildren. Brandon dated a series of models and actresses in Los Angeles, some of whom in turn dated Sumner. Sumner was relentless in his insistence that Brandon socialize with him and introduce him to potential romantic companions, sometimes calling him at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.
Brandon brought his then‑girlfriend, a willowy brunette with long, flowing hair, to the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, where they posed for photographers with Sumner. Throughout the evening Sumner brazenly flirted with Brandon’s date, often putting his arm around her, a spectacle witnessed by senior Viacom executives sitting nearby.
A year later, Brandon invited another girlfriend and tried to enlist Malia Andelin as Sumner’s date, perhaps in hopes of fending off a similar incident. He emailed Andelin in May: “Lets us 4 go I dont want him to humiliate himself and us at MTV and if u were not here he may bring a whore.” But Andelin turned him down.
It eventually proved too much for Brandon. With the approval of other family members, he turned to Stanger.
Stanger had moved to Hollywood from Miami, where she ran a large dating service, hoping for a career as a producer. Her role model was Sherry Lansing, the former model and actress turned successful studio executive. Stanger never worked in the executive rungs like Lansing, but now she was probably much more famous, thanks to The Millionaire Matchmaker.
Brash, outspoken, earthy, and funny, Stanger seemed made for reality TV. However blunt her comments, she never strayed far from a traditional narrative of love and marriage. She’d never met Sumner Redstone, but knew he was a mogul and, more to the point, a billionaire. So Stanger drove to Beverly Park to meet Sumner in person, in order to, as she put it, “read his energy.”
Her first impression was that he might have been good‑looking in his youth, but he now looked very old. She knew he was eighty‑six, but his appearance was startling nonetheless, especially his disfigured hand. She had plenty of available women interested in rich older men. Still, this might be a challenge.
Redstone seemed instantly smitten by Stanger, who checked all the boxes he told her he was looking for in both a date and a potential marriage partner—Jewish, with dark brown hair, and younger (though late forties or fifties would be fine). Sumner flirted with her, sprinkling his speech with profanities, to which she responded in kind. In the course of the interview he persuaded her to sit on his lap, which she did briefly before politely but firmly extricating herself. (Stanger had a strict rule against dating clients.
That Sumner was willing to date middle‑aged women opened up a world of possibilities. She had a long list of single, charming, and attractive older women most of her wealthy male clients wouldn’t even consider.
“Let’s do it,” she said.
Stanger explained that Sumner would be enrolled at the VIP level, which guaranteed twenty‑four‑hour, seven‑day‑a‑week access to the Millionaire Matchmaker herself. The fee was $120,000 a year, payable up front, which covered a year, although it rarely took her that long—on average, she maintained, just three dates.
One of Sumner’s first dates was with Renee Suran, an actress, a model, and the ex‑wife of the guitarist Slash. Suran was beautiful, tall, and brunette, and Sumner was crazy about her. But she didn’t reciprocate his ardor and wasn’t all that interested in his money. Sumner appeared hurt by the rejection and kept begging Stanger to arrange another date with her.
No one else seemed to measure up. Sumner often called Stanger the day after a date, screaming and berating her for an unsatisfactory match. “You don’t talk to women like that,” Stanger warned him. “I’m not fixing you up again unless you call and apologize.” Then she hung up on him. When he inevitably called back, she told him to calm down. “Are we ready to focus on love?”
Over the course of the year Sumner and Stanger became close. He seemed to like that she stood up to him and teased him, and he enjoyed her company. He told her repeatedly that she was his “dream girl.”
At the end of his contract Sumner was the rare Stanger millionaire (or, in his case, billionaire) who hadn’t found a successful match. “What else do you have?” he kept asking, even after meeting someone he liked. Stanger offered him a 10 percent discount to renew for a second year, but he didn’t want to pay. So she encouraged him to have a second date with someone he’d earlier said he liked but had nonetheless passed over—a woman named Sydney Holland. “If what you want is me, you should go out with Sydney,” Stanger argued. “Sydney is the mini version of me.”
Holland was a personal friend of Stanger’s, not a client of the dating service. She grew up in affluent La Jolla, California, a San Diego suburb, the daughter of a dentist who died when she was twenty. She had a history of dating (and marrying) older men, and was now struggling financially. So when Stanger approached her about Sumner, she all but begged Stanger to arrange a date Stanger obliged, but issued some stern warnings: “Do not sleep with him on the first date. He’s old‑fashioned, like out of the 1940s. He could have anyone in Hollywood for sex. He’s looking for the real thing.”
Sumner responded by sending her a gift—a Judith Leiber crystal‑encrusted handbag in the shape of a panther (current versions retail for over $5,000). “I’m a panther and I’m going to pounce,” the accompanying note read.
Less than a year later, in 2011, Sumner proposed marriage, and Holland “happily accepted,” she recounted. He gave her a nine‑carat diamond ring, which she proudly showed off to Stanger. Sumner showered Holland with cash, more jewelry, art, and flowers—specifically, red roses and orchids. He bought her a house in West Hollywood, just across the Beverly Hills line, and she commuted back and forth in a new Porsche. He wrote her love notes, some on stationery from the Japanese restaurant Matsuhisa. “I will always love you. You can always depend on me. Love, Sumner,” read one.
Holland reached out to her lawyer, Andrew Katzenstein, for tax advice about the ring and other gifts. Did she have to declare the “gorgeous diamond” as income? Yes, he replied (in an email leaked to the New York Post), but added that many people “ignore” the rule. She also told Katzenstein that she was a named beneficiary in Sumner’s will to the tune of $3 million. Katzenstein estimated that, thanks to Sumner’s largesse, Holland was now worth $9 million or $10 million.
“Starting to get some comfort?” he asked.
“20 would be best!!!” she replied. “Just saying.”
The Porsche, house, club memberships, and cash made an impression on Tim Jensen, a Paramount employee hired in 2011 to be Sumner’s full‑time driver. When Jensen first met her, Holland had been driving a small red compact car so decrepit that its side mirror was held in place with duct tape, according to Jensen. Jensen soon realized that even though he’d been hired by Paramount/Viacom as a driver for the studio head, Holland was his de facto employer. One of his primary duties was to take checks made out to “cash” to a Bank of America branch and return with the currency—thousands of dollars at a time—which he handed to Holland. Holland, in turn, used cash to pay seven different women who visited Sumner on a regular basis. To keep track, Jensen kept a spreadsheet listing the various women and payments. In a year they totaled more than $1 million. Jensen complained to a Viacom security official in New York, in part because he didn’t feel safe carrying so much cash, and also because he didn’t consider paying these women to be within the scope of his employment. His complaint went nowhere, but Holland became “hostile,” according to Jensen, and he was fired soon after.
Stanger was convinced that despite their age difference and Holland’s obvious financial motive, Holland was in love with Sumner. Stanger had known plenty of women who were romantically drawn to much older men. Holland took Stanger’s advice to heart. She served at Sumner’s beck and call. Soon she was indispensable.
When Sumner asked Holland to move in with him, she did, taking on the roles of wife, secretary, business manager, and, increasingly, nurse. She redecorated the mansion. She arranged visits there with Sumner’s longtime friends Charlie Rose, Michael Milken, and Sherry Lansing, not to mention the women she imported for his sexual gratification. She oversaw his dealings with CBS and Viacom, organized a CBS board meeting at the house, arranged his Sunday movie screenings, and got him to his dentist and doctor appointments.
Sumner made many demands on Holland, all of which she maintained she met: that she be present for every lunch and dinner with him; that she go to sleep when he did (even though this was much earlier than she preferred); that she not take overnight trips without him; that she stop seeing her friends. Sumner, however, “could do whatever he wanted.”
Holland was hardly the only woman in Sumner’s life. He was still courting Malia Andelin. And he had continued seeing and confiding in his old flame Manuela Herzer. Holland may have been first among equals, but she and Herzer had forged an alliance. While Herzer’s house was being renovated in 2013 at Sumner’s expense, Sumner invited Herzer and her daughter Kathrine to live with him and Holland.
With Herzer’s arrival, the atmosphere changed dramatically inside Sumner’s mansion. Surveillance cameras were installed throughout the Redstone property, and nurses and staff were subjected to lie detector tests. Anyone deemed disloyal to Holland or Herzer was fired. As the women consolidated their control over the mansion, its staff, and Sumner himself, the number of people with unrestricted access to him dwindled. This included his immediate family—Shari and the grandchildren he so doted upon. Holland or Herzer sat in on all their visits or had staff members present who would report on their conversations. Most of the family’s calls to Sumner were also blocked, though Holland and Herzer then told Sumner his family never called. According to Jagiello, “Sydney and Manuela reacted angrily when they learned that a nurse or member of the household staff had put those calls through and made clear that it was a fireable offense.”
In what Jagiello described as a “constant bombardment,” Holland and Herzer “regularly disparaged Shari to Mr. Redstone, telling him that she was a liar, was only after his money, and was defying his wishes in both personal and business matters.”
Holland and Herzer seemed to tolerate Sumner’s continuing infatuation with Malia Andelin, who still showed up at the mansion nearly every week notwithstanding Sumner’s purported engagement to Holland. Sumner called her constantly, sometimes multiple times a day, leaving long messages saying he loved her. “I am sorry I am crying,” he told her. “Every time I think of you I cry. I can’t help it. And remember, if you ever need anything at all—money, advice, whatever—you call me. I will always be there for you.” He called her “my one and only.”
Andelin tolerated this, but she had no romantic feelings for Sumner. Although Sumner often made lewd and inappropriate sexual comments, Andelin doubted he was even physically capable of sex in any conventional sense. Andelin felt it was more that he wanted his cronies, like Bob Evans and Larry King, to think he was sleeping with attractive young women. Andelin felt Holland and Herzer were jealous of Sumner’s affection for her but knew there was little they could do about it. Her presence also gave them what may have been some welcome evenings off from catering to Sumner’s whims. The two women even helped Sumner pick out expensive gifts for Andelin, like diamond earrings and a Rolex watch, sometimes inflating the tab by adding purchases of clothing and jewelry for themselves.
Herzer counseled Andelin that she could be asking Sumner for much more. Turning down his marriage proposal years earlier was the biggest mistake of her life, Herzer confided.
Andelin had never asked Sumner for money and initially resisted when Sumner said he wanted to help buy her a house. But she gave in after he said he’d choose one for her if she didn’t. She ended up with a $2.65 million cottage in exclusive Corona del Mar, not far from her home in Laguna Beach. As time went on, Sumner’s gifts to Andelin grew more extravagant. Six‑ and even seven‑figure deposits of cash and CBS and Viacom stock started showing up in her account.
Andelin was well aware of what other people thought of her and Sumner’s relationship. She didn’t like it. She hated the idea that people thought of her as another Holland or Herzer. Still, she accepted the money and gifts. The more she did, the lower her self‑esteem sank. Sometimes she wondered: Was she experiencing a version of Stockholm syndrome, in which a victim of abuse develops an attachment to the perpetrator? For all Sumner’s faults, over their years together Andelin developed some compassion for him. She felt he was fundamentally lonely and deeply insecure.
She also rationalized the arrangement by thinking of it as her job. However “foul‑mouthed and crude” he could be, as she put it, she considered Sumner a mentor, a brilliant businessman from whom she could learn a great deal. And perhaps she could change Sumner for the better.
In this she had her work cut out for her. At a dinner at e. baldi restaurant in Beverly Hills, Sumner complained that the director Steven Spielberg had been pushing him to be nicer about Barack Obama. Obama was wildly popular with the Hollywood elite, but Sumner was no fan of the president. “Obama is a . . . ,” Sumner loudly said, using the N‑word.
Andelin was horrified. “You can’t say that word!” she exclaimed. “It’s a joke,” he insisted.
“You still can’t say it, especially where people might hear you.”
At one point Sumner asked Andelin if she thought he was a “horrible person.” “If I was your age and we met, would you be friends with me?” he asked. “Is there a chance you would even like me if I were your age?”
Andelin didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but, following Shari’s advice, she was honest. “I don’t know,” she said. “You’re not very nice.”
Sumner started to cry.
Excerpted from UNSCRIPTED: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy by James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams, to be published on February 14, 2023 by Penguin Press. Copyright © 2023 by James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams.
Richard Ekstract turns 92 on February 20th. After a brilliant career as a magazine publisher, art collector and real estate developer, he is now on a mission to stamp out fake news. You can join in.
Richard and Eileen Ekstract are working with Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication to create the Ekstract Center for News Credibility to address how misinformation and disinformation continue to plague our society on a national level. Temple University said. “Named in the honor of alumnus Richard Ekstract, the goals for the proposed Center are to 1) strengthen local news-community relationships and invigorate an industry that is facing challenging times and 2) grant people a stable resource of quality reporting on the issues taking shape in their immediate surroundings.”
If you are interested, there will be a two day reception in Palm Beach February 27th and 28th on this exciting new initiative. Please RSVP to: Karen Gallagher, Asst. Dean, Development and Alumni Relations
Photo of Eileen and Richard Ekstract
Rep. Jamie Raskin Is About As Good As You Can Get
E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt gifts Raskin a head cover as congressman battles cancer
BY JARED GANS – 02/11/23 6:36 PM ET
Musician and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt gave Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) a head cover as a gift, as the congressman continues his battle with cancer.
Raskin tweeted on Saturday about receiving the cover and posted a picture of himself wearing it.
“Look what I received from one of the greatest musicians on earth, a gift I will treasure almost as much as his song ‘I am a patriot,’” he said. “You are about to see a step up in my chemo head-cover fashions for the next few months. Rock on Stevie, keep spreading the light.”
Van Zandt retweeted Raskin’s post, thanking him for his service in Congress and work to promote “justice.”
“That gift is from all of us who want to thank you every day for giving us hope that there is a politician that cares about justice! Here’s to a rapid complete recovery,” he wrote.
Raskin announced in December that he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which affects white blood cells in the body’s immune system. He said it was “serious but curable” at the time.
The Maryland lawmaker said last month that he was “very optimistic” about his prognosis. He noted that he was losing his hair likely as a result of receiving chemotherapy.
The E Street Band has been rock singer Bruce Springsteen’s primary band for decades. Some of the group’s top hits include “Born to Run” and “Born in the U.S.A.”
I’m sharing this story with you because so many of us wondered about the status of Salman Rushdie. Here is a detailed explanation.
The Defiance of Salman Rushdie
After a near-fatal stabbing—and decades of threats—the novelist speaks about writing as a death-defying act.David Remnick
February 06, 2023 Photograph by Richard Burbridge for The New Yorker
“I’ve always thought that my books are more interesting than my life,” Rushdie says. “The world appears to disagree.”
When Salman Rushdie turned seventy-five, last summer, he had every reason to believe that he had outlasted the threat of assassination. A long time ago, on Valentine’s Day, 1989, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, declared Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” blasphemous and issued a fatwa ordering the execution of its author and “all those involved in its publication.” Rushdie, a resident of London, spent the next decade in a fugitive existence, under constant police protection. But after settling in New York, in 2000, he lived freely, insistently unguarded. He refused to be terrorized.
There were times, though, when the lingering threat made itself apparent, and not merely on the lunatic reaches of the Internet. In 2012, during the annual autumn gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, I joined a small meeting of reporters with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, and I asked him if the multimillion-dollar bounty that an Iranian foundation had placed on Rushdie’s head had been rescinded. Ahmadinejad smiled with a glint of malice. “Salman Rushdie, where is he now?” he said. “There is no news of him. Is he in the United States? If he is in the U.S., you shouldn’t broadcast that, for his own safety.”
Within a year, Ahmadinejad was out of office and out of favor with the mullahs. Rushdie went on living as a free man. The years passed. He wrote book after book, taught, lectured, travelled, met with readers, married, divorced, and became a fixture in the city that was his adopted home. If he ever felt the need for some vestige of anonymity, he wore a baseball cap.
Recalling his first few months in New York, Rushdie told me, “People were scared to be around me. I thought, The only way I can stop that is to behave as if I’m not scared. I have to show them there’s nothing to be scared about.” One night, he went out to dinner with Andrew Wylie, his agent and friend, at Nick & Toni’s, an extravagantly conspicuous restaurant in East Hampton. The painter Eric Fischl stopped by their table and said, “Shouldn’t we all be afraid and leave the restaurant?”
“Well, I’m having dinner,” Rushdie replied. “You can do what you like.”
Fischl hadn’t meant to offend, but sometimes there was a tone of derision in press accounts of Rushdie’s “indefatigable presence on the New York night-life scene,” as Laura M. Holson put it in the Times. Some people thought he should have adopted a more austere posture toward his predicament. Would Solzhenitsyn have gone onstage with Bono or danced the night away at Moomba?
For Rushdie, keeping a low profile would be capitulation. He was a social being and would live as he pleased. He even tried to render the fatwa ridiculous. Six years ago, he played himself in an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which Larry David provokes threats from Iran for mocking the Ayatollah while promoting his upcoming production “Fatwa! The Musical.” David is terrified, but Rushdie’s character assures him that life under an edict of execution, though it can be “scary,” also makes a man alluring to women. “It’s not exactly you, it’s the fatwa wrapped around you, like sexy pixie dust!” he says.
With every public gesture, it appeared, Rushdie was determined to show that he would not merely survive but flourish, at his desk and on the town. “There was no such thing as absolute security,” he wrote in his third-person memoir, “Joseph Anton,” published in 2012. “There were only varying degrees of insecurity. He would have to learn to live with that.” He well understood that his demise would not require the coördinated efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or Hezbollah; a cracked loner could easily do the job. “But I had come to feel that it was a very long time ago, and that the world moves on,” he told me.
In September, 2021, Rushdie married the poet and novelist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, whom he’d met six years earlier, at a pen event. It was his fifth marriage, and a happy one. They spent the pandemic together productively. By last July, Rushdie had made his final corrections on a new novel, titled “Victory City.”
One of the sparks for the novel was a trip decades ago to the town of Hampi, in South India, the site of the ruins of the medieval Vijayanagara empire. “Victory City,” which is presented as a recovered medieval Sanskrit epic, is the story of a young girl named Pampa Kampana, who, after witnessing the death of her mother, acquires divine powers and conjures into existence a glorious metropolis called Bisnaga, in which women resist patriarchal rule and religious tolerance prevails, at least for a while. The novel, firmly in the tradition of the wonder tale, draws on Rushdie’s readings in Hindu mythology and in the history of South Asia.
“The first kings of Vijayanagara announced, quite seriously, that they were descended from the moon,” Rushdie said. “So when these kings, Harihara and Bukka, announce that they’re members of the lunar dynasty, they’re basically associating themselves with those great heroes. It’s like saying, ‘I’ve descended from the same family as Achilles.’ Or Agamemnon. And so I thought, Well, if you could say that, I can say anything.”
Above all, the book is buoyed by the character of Pampa Kampana, who, Rushdie says, “just showed up in my head” and gave him his story, his sense of direction. The pleasure for Rushdie in writing the novel was in “world building” and, at the same time, writing about a character building that world: “It’s me doing it, but it’s also her doing it.” The pleasure is infectious. “Victory City” is an immensely enjoyable novel. It is also an affirmation. At the end, with the great city in ruins, what is left is not the storyteller but her words:
I, Pampa Kampana, am the author of this book.
I have lived to see an empire rise and fall.
How are they remembered now, these kings, these queens?
They exist now only in words . . .
I myself am nothing now. All that remains is this city of words.
Words are the only victors.
It is hard not to read this as a credo of sorts. Over the years, Rushdie’s friends have marvelled at his ability to write amid the fury unleashed on him. Martin Amis has said that, if he were in his shoes, “I would, by now, be a tearful and tranquilized three-hundred-pounder, with no eyelashes or nostril hairs.” And yet “Victory City” is Rushdie’s sixteenth book since the fatwa.
He was pleased with the finished manuscript and was getting encouragement from friends who had read it. (“I think ‘Victory City’ will be one of his books that will last,” the novelist Hari Kunzru told me.) During the pandemic, Rushdie had also completed a play about Helen of Troy, and he was already toying with an idea for another novel. He’d reread Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” and Franz Kafka’s “The Castle,” novels that deploy a naturalistic language to evoke strange, hermetic worlds—an alpine sanatorium, a remote provincial bureaucracy. Rushdie thought about using a similar approach to create a peculiar imaginary college as his setting. He started keeping notes. In the meantime, he looked forward to a peaceful summer and, come winter, a publicity tour to promote “Victory City.”Cartoon by Edward Koren
“We bought the place sight unseen and then were informed it came with at least nine endangered species.”
On August 11th, Rushdie arrived for a speaking engagement at the Chautauqua Institution, situated on an idyllic property bordering a lake in southwestern New York State. There, for nine weeks every summer, a prosperous crowd intent on self-improvement and fresh air comes to attend lectures, courses, screenings, performances, and readings. Chautauqua has been a going concern since 1874. Franklin Roosevelt delivered his “I hate war” speech there, in 1936. Over the years, Rushdie has occasionally suffered from nightmares, and a couple of nights before the trip he dreamed of someone, “like a gladiator,” attacking him with “a sharp object.” But no midnight portent was going to keep him home. Chautauqua was a wholesome venue, with cookouts, magic shows, and Sunday school. One donor described it to me as “the safest place on earth.”
Rushdie had agreed to appear onstage with his friend Henry Reese. Eighteen years ago, Rushdie helped Reese raise funds to create City of Asylum, a program in Pittsburgh that supports authors who have been driven into exile. On the morning of August 12th, Rushdie had breakfast with Reese and some donors on the porch of the Athenaeum Hotel, a Victorian pile near the lake. At the table, he told jokes and stories, admitting that he sometimes ordered books from Amazon even if he felt a little guilty about it. With mock pride, he bragged about his speed as a signer of books, though he had to concede that Amy Tan was quicker: “But she has an advantage, because her name is so short.”
A crowd of more than a thousand was gathering at the amphitheatre. It was shorts-and-polo-shirt weather, sunny and clear. On the way into the venue, Reese introduced Rushdie to his ninety-three-year-old mother, and then they headed for the greenroom to spend time organizing their talk. The plan was to discuss the cultural hybridity of the imagination in contemporary literature, show some slides and describe City of Asylum, and, finally, open things up for questions.
At 10:45 a.m., Rushdie and Reese took their places onstage, settling into yellow armchairs. Off to the side, Sony Ton-Aime, a poet and the director of the literary-arts program at Chautauqua, stepped to a lectern to introduce the talk. At 10:47, there was a commotion. A young man ran down the aisle and climbed onto the stage. He was dressed all in black and armed with a knife.
Rushdie grew up in Bombay in a hillside villa with a view of the Arabian Sea. The family was Muslim, but secular. They were wealthy, though less so over time. Salman’s father, Anis Ahmed Rushdie, was a textile manufacturer who, according to his son, had the business acumen of a “four-year-old child.” But, for all his flaws, Rushdie’s father read to him from the “great wonder tales of the East,” including the stories of Scheherazade in the “Thousand and One Nights,” the Sanskrit animal fables of the Panchatantra, and the exploits of Amir Hamza, an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. Salman became obsessed with stories; they were his most valued inheritance. He spent countless hours at his local bookstore, Reader’s Paradise. In time, he devoured the two vast Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; the Greek and Roman myths; and the adventures of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.
Nothing was sacred to young Rushdie, not even the stories with religious origins, but on some level he believed them all. He was particularly enraptured by the polytheistic storytelling traditions in which the gods behave badly, weirdly, hilariously. He was taken by a Hindu tale, the Samudra Manthan, in which gods and demons churn the Milky Way so that the stars release amrita, the nectar of immortality. He would look up at the night sky and imagine the nectar falling toward him. “Maybe if I opened my mouth,” he said to himself, “a drop might fall in and then I would be immortal, too.”
Later, Rushdie learned from the oral traditions as well. On a trip to Kerala, in South India, he listened to professional storytellers spin tales at outdoor gatherings where large crowds paid a few rupees and sat on the ground to listen for hours. What especially interested Rushdie was the style of these fabulists: circuitous, digressive, improvisational. “They’ve got three or four narrative balls in the air at any given moment, and they just juggle them,” he said. That, too, fed his imagination and, eventually, his sense of the novel’s possibilities.
At the age of thirteen, Rushdie was sent off to Rugby, a centuries-old British boarding school. There were three mistakes a boarder could make in those days, as he came to see it: be foreign, be clever, and be bad at games. He was all three. He was decidedly happier as a university student. At King’s College, Cambridge, he met several times with E. M. Forster, the author of “Howards End” and “A Passage to India.” “He was very encouraging when he heard that I wanted to be a writer,” Rushdie told me. “And he said something which I treasured, which is that he felt that the great novel of India would be written by somebody from India with a Western education.
“I hugely admire ‘A Passage to India,’ because it was an anti-colonial book at a time when it was not at all fashionable to be anti-colonial,” he went on. “What I kind of rebelled against was Forsterian English, which is very cool and meticulous. I thought, If there’s one thing that India is not, it’s not cool. It’s hot and noisy and crowded and excessive. How do you find a language that’s like that?”
As an undergraduate, Rushdie studied history, taking particular interest in the history of India, the United States, and Islam. Along the way, he read about the “Satanic verses,” an episode in which the Prophet Muhammad (“one of the great geniuses of world history,” Rushdie wrote years later) is said to have been deceived by Satan and made a proclamation venerating three goddesses; he soon reversed himself after the Archangel Gabriel revealed this deception, and the verses were expunged from the sacred record. The story raised many questions. The verses about the three goddesses had, it was said, initially been popular in Mecca, so why were they discredited? Was it to do with their subjects being female? Had Muhammad somehow flirted with polytheism, making the “revelation” false and satanic? “I thought, Good story,” Rushdie said. “I found out later how good.” He filed it away for later use.”
After graduating from Cambridge, Rushdie moved to London and set to work as a writer. He wrote novels and stories, along with glowing reviews of his future work which, as he later noted, “offered a fleeting, onanistic comfort, usually followed by a pang of shame.” There was a great deal of typing, finishing, and then stashing away the results. One novel, “The Antagonist,” was heavily influenced by Thomas Pynchon and featured a secondary character named Saleem Sinai, who was born at midnight August 14-15, 1947, the moment of Indian independence. (More for the file.) Another misfire, “Madame Rama,” took aim at Indira Gandhi, who had imposed emergency rule in India. “Grimus” (1975), Rushdie’s first published novel, was a sci-fi fantasy based on a twelfth-century Sufi narrative poem called “The Conference of the Birds.” It attracted a few admirers, Ursula K. Le Guin among them, but had tepid reviews and paltry sales.
To underwrite this ever-lengthening apprenticeship, Rushdie, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Heller, and Don DeLillo, worked in advertising, notably at the firm Ogilvy & Mather. He wrote copy extolling the virtues of the Daily Mirror, Scotch Magic Tape, and Aero chocolate bars. He found the work easy. He has always been partial to puns, alliteration, limericks, wordplay of all kinds. In fact, as he approached his thirtieth birthday, his best-known achievement in letters was his campaign on behalf of Aero, “the bubbliest milk chocolate you can buy.” He indelibly described the aerated candy bar as “Adorabubble,”
But advertising was hardly his life’s ambition, and Rushdie now embarked on an “all or nothing” project. He went to India for an extended trip, a reimmersion in the subcontinent, with endless bus rides and countless conversations. It revived something in him; as he put it, “a world came flooding back.” Here was the hot and noisy Bombay English that he’d been looking for. In 1981, when Rushdie was thirty-three, he published “Midnight’s Children,” an autobiographical-national epic of Bombay and the rise of post-colonial India. The opening of the novel is a remarkable instance of a unique voice announcing itself:
I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more . . . On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clockhands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. There were gasps. And, outside the window, fireworks and crowds. . . . I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Buddha and even Piece-of-the-Moon, had become heavily embroiled in Fate.
Perhaps the most distinct echo is from Saul Bellow’s “The Adventures of Augie March”: “I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record in my own way. . . .” When Rushdie shifted from the third-person narrator of his earlier drafts to the first-person address of the protagonist, Saleem Sinai, the novel took off. Rushdie was suddenly back “in the world that made me.” Forster had been onto something. In an English of his own devising, Rushdie had written a great Indian novel, a prismatic work with all the noise, abundance, multilingual complexity, wit, and, ultimately, political disappointment of the country he set out to describe. As he told me, “Bombay is a city built very largely on reclaimed land—reclaimed from the sea. And I thought of the book as being kind of an act of reclamation.”
“Midnight’s Children” is a novel of overwhelming muchness, of magic and mythologies. Saleem learns that a thousand other children were born at the same moment as he was, and that these thousand and one storytellers make up a vast subcontinental Scheherazade. Saleem is telepathically attuned to the cacophony of an infinitely varied post-colonial nation, with all its fissures and conflicts. “I was a radio receiver and could turn the volume down or up,” he tells us. “I could select individual voices; I could even, by an effort of will, switch off my newly discovered ear.”
The novel was quickly recognized as a classic. “We have an epic in our laps,” John Leonard wrote in the Times. “The obvious comparisons are to Günter Grass in ‘The Tin Drum’ and to Gabriel Garcia Márquez in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude.’ I am happy to oblige the obvious.” “Midnight’s Children” won the Booker Prize in 1981, and, many years later, “the Booker of Bookers,” the best of the best. One of the few middling reviews Rushdie received was from his father. His reading of the novel was, at best, dismissive; he could not have been pleased by the depiction of the protagonist’s father, who, like him, had a drinking problem. “When you have a baby on your lap, sometimes it wets you, but you forgive it,” he told Rushdie. It was only years later, when he was dying, that he came clean: “I was angry because every word you wrote was true.”
Shortly after the publication of “Midnight’s Children,” Bill Buford, an American who had reinvented the literary quarterly Granta while studying at Cambridge, invited Rushdie to give a reading at a space above a hairdresser’s. “I didn’t know who was going to show up,” Rushdie recalled. “The room was packed, absolutely bursting at the seams, and a large percentage were Indian readers. I was unbelievably moved. A rather well-dressed middle-aged lady in a fancy sari stood up at the end of the reading, in this sort of Q. & A. bit, and she said, ‘I want to thank you, Mr. Rushdie, because you have told my story.’ It still almost makes me cry.”
“Midnight’s Children” and its equally extravagant successor, “Shame,” which is set in a country that is “not quite” Pakistan, managed to infuriate the leaders of India and Pakistan—Indira Gandhi sued Rushdie and his publisher, Jonathan Cape, for defamation; “Shame” was banned in Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan—but politics was hardly the only reason that his example was so liberating. Rushdie takes from Milan Kundera the idea that the history of the modern novel came from two distinct eighteenth-century streams, the realism of Samuel Richardson’s “Clarissa” and the strangeness and irrealism of Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy”; Rushdie gravitated to the latter, more fantastical, less populated tradition. His youthful readings had been followed by later excursions into Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Italo Calvino, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Mikhail Bulgakov, all of whom drew on folktales, allegory, and local mythologies to produce their “antic, ludic, comic, eccentric” texts.
In turn, younger writers found inspiration in “Midnight’s Children,” especially those who came from backgrounds shaped by colonialism and migration. One such was Zadie Smith, who published her first novel, “White Teeth,” in 2000, when she was twenty-four. “By the time I came of age, it was already canonical,” Smith told me. “If I’m honest, I was a bit resistant to it as a monument—it felt very intimidating. But then, aged about eighteen, I finally read it, and I think the first twenty pages had as much influence on me as any book could. Bottled energy! That’s the best way I can put it. And I recognized the energy. ‘The empire writes back’ is what we used to say of Rushdie, and I was also a distant child of that empire, and had grown up around people with Rushdie-level energy and storytelling prowess. . . . I hate that cliché of ‘He kicked I hate that cliché of ‘He kicked open the door so we could walk through it,’ but in Salman’s case it’s the truth.”
At the time, Rushdie had no idea that he would exert such an influence. “I was just thinking, I hope a few people read this weird book,” he said. “This book with almost no white people in it and written in such strange English.”
I first met Rushdie, fleetingly, in New York, at a 1986 convocation of pen International. I was reporting on the gathering for the Washington Post and Rushdie was possibly the youngest luminary in a vast assemblage of writers from forty-five countries. Like a rookie at the all-star game, Rushdie enjoyed watching the veterans do their thing: Günter Grass throwing Teutonic thunderbolts at Saul Bellow; E. L. Doctorow lashing out at Norman Mailer, the president of pen American Center, for inviting George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, to speak; Grace Paley hurling high heat at Mailer for his failure to invite more women. One afternoon, Rushdie was outside on Central Park South, taking a break from the conference, when he ran into a photographer from Time, who asked him to hop into a horse carriage for a picture. Rushdie found himself sitting beside Czesław Miłosz and Susan Sontag. For once, Rushdie said, he was “tongue-tied.”
But the pen convention was a diversion, as was a side project called “The Jaguar Smile,” a piece of reporting on the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Rushdie was wrestling with the manuscript of “The Satanic Verses.” The prose was no less vibrant and hallucinatory than that of “Midnight’s Children” or “Shame,” but the tale was mainly set in London. “There was a point in my life when I could have written a version of ‘Midnight’s Children’ every few years,” he said. “It would’ve sold, you know. But I always want to find a thing to do that I haven’t done.”
“The Satanic Verses” was published in September, 1988. Rushdie knew that, just as he had angered Indira Gandhi and General Zia-ul-Haq, he might offend some Muslim clerics with his treatment of Islamic history and various religious tropes. The Prophet is portrayed as imperfect yet earnest, courageous in the face of persecution. In any case, the novel is hardly dominated by religion. It is in large measure about identity in the modern world of migration. Rushdie thought of “The Satanic Verses” as a “love-song to our mongrel selves,” a celebration of “hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs.” In a tone more comic than polemical, it was at once a social novel, a novel of British Asians, and a phantasmagorical retelling of the grand narrative of Islam.
If there was going to be a fuss, Rushdie figured, it would pass soon enough. “It would be absurd to think that a book can cause riots,” he told the Indian reporter Shrabani Basu before publication. Three years earlier, some British and American Muslims had protested peacefully against “My Beautiful Laundrette,” with its irreverent screenplay by the British Pakistani writer Hanif Kureishi, but that ran its course quickly. What’s more, in an era of racist “Paki-bashing,” Rushdie was admired in London for speaking out about bigotry. In 1982, in a broadcast on Channel 4, he said, “British thought, British society, has never been cleansed of the filth of imperialism. It’s still there, breeding lice and vermin, waiting for unscrupulous people to exploit it for their own ends.”
In India, though, ahead of a national election, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government banned “The Satanic Verses.” It was not immediately clear that the censorious fury would spread. In the U.K., the novel made the shortlist for the Booker Prize. (The winner was Peter Carey’s “Oscar and Lucinda.”) “The Satanic Verses” was even reviewed in the Iranian press. Attempts by religious authorities in Saudi Arabia to arouse anger about the book and have it banned throughout the world had at first only limited success, even in Arab countries. But soon the dam gave way. There were deadly riots in Kashmir and Islamabad; marches and book burnings in Bolton, Bradford, London, and Oldham; bomb threats against the publisher, Viking Penguin, in New York.
In Tehran, Ayatollah Khomeini was ailing and in crisis. After eight years of war with Iraq and hundreds of thousands of casualties, he had been forced to drink from the “poisoned chalice,” as he put it, and accept a ceasefire with Saddam Hussein. The popularity of the revolutionary regime had declined. Khomeini’s son admitted that his father never read “The Satanic Verses,” but the mullahs around him saw an opportunity to reassert the Ayatollah’s authority at home and to expand it abroad, even beyond the reach of his Shia followers. Khomeini issued the fatwa calling for Rushdie’s execution. As Kenan Malik writes in “From Fatwa to Jihad,” the edict “was a sign of weakness rather than of strength,” a matter more of politics than of theology.
A reporter from the BBC called Rushdie at home and said, “How does it feel to know that you have just been sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini?”
Rushdie thought, I’m a dead man. That’s it. One day. Two days. For the rest of his life, he would no longer be merely a storyteller; he would be a story, a controversy, an affair.
“Is it too matchy-matchy?”
After speaking with a few more reporters, Rushdie went to a memorial service for his close friend Bruce Chatwin. Many of his friends were there. Some expressed concern, others tried consolation via wisecrack. “Next week we’ll be back here for you!” Paul Theroux said. In those early days, Theroux recalled in a letter to Rushdie, he thought the fatwa was “a very bad joke, a bit like Papa Doc Duvalier putting a voodoo curse on Graham Greene for writing ‘The Comedians.’ ” After the service, Martin Amis picked up a newspaper that carried the headline “execute rushdie orders the ayatollah.” Rushdie, Amis thought, had now “vanished into the front page.”
For the next decade, Rushdie lived underground, guarded by officers of the Special Branch, a unit of London’s Metropolitan Police. The headlines and the threats were unceasing. People behaved well. People behaved disgracefully. There were friends of great constancy—Buford, Amis, James Fenton, Ian McEwan, Nigella Lawson, Christopher Hitchens, many more—and yet some regarded the fatwa as a problem Rushdie had brought on himself. Prince Charles made his antipathy clear at a dinner party that Amis attended: What should you expect if you insult people’s deepest convictions? John le Carré instructed Rushdie to withdraw his book “until a calmer time has come.” Roald Dahl branded him a “dangerous opportunist” who “knew exactly what he was doing and cannot plead otherwise.” The singer-songwriter Cat Stevens, who had a hit with “Peace Train” and converted to Islam, said, “The Quran makes it clear—if someone defames the Prophet, then he must die.” Germaine Greer, George Steiner, and Auberon Waugh all expressed their disapproval. So did Jimmy Carter, the British Foreign Secretary, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Among his detractors, an image hardened of a Rushdie who was dismissive of Muslim sensitivities and, above all, ungrateful for the expensive protection the government was providing him. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper remarked, “I would not shed a tear if some British Muslims, deploring his manners, should waylay him in a dark street and seek to improve them. If that should cause him thereafter to control his pen, society would benefit, and literature would not suffer.”
The horror was that, thanks to Khomeini’s cruel edict, so many people did suffer. In separate incidents, Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, and Ettore Capriolo, its Italian translator, were stabbed, Igarashi fatally; the book’s Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was fortunate to survive being shot multiple times. Bookshops from London to Berkeley were firebombed. Meanwhile, the Swedish Academy, the organization in Stockholm that awards the annual Nobel Prize in Literature, declined to issue a statement in support of Rushdie. This was a silence that went unbroken for decades.
Rushdie was in ten kinds of misery. His marriage to the novelist Marianne Wiggins fell apart. He was consumed by worry for the safety of his young son, Zafar. Initially, he maintained a language of bravado—“Frankly, I wish I had written a more critical book,” he told a reporter the day that the fatwa was announced—but he was living, he wrote, “in a waking nightmare.” “The Satanic Verses” was a sympathetic book about the plight of the deracinated, the very same young people he now saw on the evening news burning him in effigy. His antagonists were not merely offended; they insisted on a right not to be offended. As he told me, “This paradox is part of the story of my life.”
It was part of a still larger paradox. “The Satanic Verses” was published at a time when liberty was ascendant: by late 1989, the Berlin Wall had fallen; in the Soviet Union, the authority of the Communist Party was imploding. And yet the Rushdie affair prefigured other historical trends: struggles over multiculturalism and the boundaries of free speech; the rise of radical Islam and the reaction to it.
For some young writers, the work proved intensely generative. The playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar, who is now the president of pen America, grew up in a Muslim community in Milwaukee. He told me he remembers how friends and loved ones were gravely offended by “The Satanic Verses”; at the same time, the novel changed his life. “It was one of those experiences where I couldn’t believe what I was reading, both the beauty of it and, as a believing Muslim, I grappled with the shock of its extraordinary irreverence,” he said. “By the time I got to the end of that book, I was a different person. I suppose it was like being a young believing Irish Catholic in the twenties and encountering ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’ ”
Amid the convulsions of the late nineteen-eighties, though, the book was vilified by people who knew it only through caricature and vitriol. A novelist who had set out to write about the complexities of South Asians in London was now, in mosques around the city and around the world, described as a figure of traitorous evil. Rushdie, out of a desire to calm the waters, met with a group of local Muslim leaders and signed a declaration affirming his faith in Islam. It was, he reasoned, true in a way: although he did not believe in supernaturalism or the orthodoxies of the creed, he had regard for the culture and civilization of Islam. He now attested that he did not agree with any statement made by any character in the novel that cast aspersions on Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, and that he would suspend the publication of the paperback edition “while any risk of further offense exists.”
Ayatollah Khomeini had died by this time, and his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was unmoved. His response was that the fatwa would remain in place even if Rushdie “repents and becomes the most pious man of his time.” A newspaper in Tehran advised Rushdie to “prepare for death.”
He was humiliated. It had been a mistake, he decided, to try to appease those who wanted his head. He would not make it again. As he put it in “Joseph Anton”:
He needed to understand that there were people who would never love him. No matter how carefully he explained his work or clarified his intentions in creating it, they would not love him. The unreasoning mind, driven by the doubt-free absolutes of faith, could not be convinced by reason. Those who had demonized him would never say, “Oh, look, he’s not a demon after all.” . . . He needed, now, to be clear of what he was fighting for. Freedom of speech, freedom of the imagination, freedom from fear, and the beautiful, ancient art of which he was privileged to be a practitioner. Also skepticism, irreverence, doubt, satire, comedy, and unholy glee. He would never again flinch from the defense of these things.
Since 1989, Rushdie has had to shut out not only the threats to his person but the constant dissections of his character, in the press and beyond. “There was a moment when there was a ‘me’ floating around that had been invented to show what a bad person I was,” he said. “ ‘Evil.’ ‘Arrogant.’ ‘Terrible writer.’ ‘Nobody would’ve read him if there hadn’t been an attack against his book.’ Et cetera. I’ve had to fight back against that false self. My mother used to say that her way of dealing with unhappiness was to forget it. She said, ‘Some people have a memory. I have a forget-ory.’
Rushdie went on, “I just thought, There are various ways in which this event can destroy me as an artist.” He could refrain from writing altogether. He could write “revenge books” that would make him a creature of circumstances. Or he could write “scared books,” novels that “shy away from things, because you worry about how people will react to them.” But he didn’t want the fatwa to become a determining event in his literary trajectory: “If somebody arrives from another planet who has never heard of anything that happened to me, and just has the books on the shelf and reads them chronologically, I don’t think that alien would think, Something terrible happened to this writer in 1989. The books go on their own journey. And that was really an act of will.”
Some people in Rushdie’s circle and beyond are convinced that, in the intervening decades, self-censorship, a fear of giving offense, has too often become the order of the day. His friend Hanif Kureishi has said, “Nobody would have the balls today to write ‘The Satanic Verses,’ let alone publish it.”
At the height of the fatwa, Rushdie set out to make good on a promise to his son, Zafar, and complete a book of stories, tales that he told the boy in his bath. That book, which appeared in 1990, is “Haroun and the Sea of Stories.” (Haroun is Zafar’s middle name.) It concerns a twelve-year-old boy’s attempt to restore his father’s gift for storytelling. “Luck has a way of running out without the slightest warning,” Rushdie writes, and so it has been with Rashid, the Shah of Blah, a storyteller. His wife leaves him; he loses his gift. When he opens his mouth, he can say only “Ark, ark, ark.” His nemesis is the Cultmaster, a tyrant from the land of Chup, who opposes “stories and fancies and dreams,” and imposes Silence Laws on his subjects; some of his devotees “work themselves up into great frenzies and sew their lips together with stout twine.” In the end, the son is a savior, and stories triumph over tyranny. “My father has definitely not given up,” Haroun concludes. “You can’t cut off his Story Water supply.” And so, in the midst of a nightmare, Rushdie wrote one of his most enjoyable books, and an allegory of the necessity and the resilience of art.
Among the stories Rushdie was determined to tell was the story of his life. This required a factual approach, and when he published that memoir, “Joseph Anton,” a decade ago, he intended to be self-scrutinizing, tougher on himself than on anybody else. That is not invariably the case. He is harsh about publishers who, while standing fully behind Rushdie and his novel, felt it necessary to make compromises along the way (notably, delaying paperback publication) to protect the lives of their staffs. Some of the passages about his second, third, and fourth wives—Marianne Wiggins, Elizabeth West, and Padma Lakshmi—are unkind, even vindictive. He is, in general, not known for restraint in his public utterances, and his responses to personal and literary chastisements are sometimes ill-tempered. In some ways, “Joseph Anton” reminded me of Solzhenitsyn’s memoir “The Oak and the Calf,” not because the two writers share similar personalities or politics but because both, while showing extraordinary courage, remain human, sometimes heroic and sometimes petulant.
At the end of “Joseph Anton”—the title is his fatwa-era code name, the first names of two favorite writers, Conrad and Chekhov—there is a movement into the light, a resolution. His “little battle,” he wrote in the final pages, “was coming to an end.” With a sense of joy, he embarks on a new novel.
This in the end was who he was, a teller of tales, a creator of shapes, a maker of things that were not. It would be wise to withdraw from the world of commentary and polemic and rededicate himself to what he loved most, the art that had claimed his heart, mind and spirit ever since he was a young man, and to live again in the universe of once upon a time, of kan ma kan, it was so and it was not so, and to make the journey to the truth upon the waters of make-believe.
Rushdie moved to New York and tried to put the turmoil behind him.
On the night of August 11th, a twenty-four-year-old man named Hadi Matar slept under the stars on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. His parents, Hassan Matar and Silvana Fardos, came from Yaroun, Lebanon, a village just north of the Israeli border, and immigrated to California, where Hadi was born. In 2004, they divorced. Hassan Matar returned to Lebanon; Silvana Fardos, her son, and her twin daughters eventually moved to New Jersey. In recent years, the family has lived in a two-story house in Fairview, a suburb across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
In 2018, Matar went to Lebanon to visit his father. At least initially, the journey was not a success. “The first hour he gets there he called me, he wanted to come back,” Fardos told a reporter for the Daily Mail. “He stayed for approximately twenty-eight days, but the trip did not go well with his father, he felt very alone.”
When he returned to New Jersey, Matar became a more devout Muslim. He was also withdrawn and distant; he took to criticizing his mother for failing to provide a proper religious upbringing. “I was expecting him to come back motivated, to complete school, to get his degree and a job,” Fardos said. Instead, she said, Matar stashed himself away in the basement, where he stayed up all night, reading and playing video games, and slept during the day. He held a job at a nearby Marshall’s, the discount department store, but quit after a couple of months. Many weeks would go by without his saying a word to his mother or his sisters.
Matar did occasionally venture out of the house. He joined the State of Fitness Boxing Club, a gym in North Bergen, a couple of miles away, and took evening classes: jump rope, speed bag, heavy bag, sparring. He impressed no one with his skills. The owner, a firefighter named Desmond Boyle, takes pride in drawing out the people who come to his gym. He had no luck with Matar. “The only way to describe him was that every time you saw him it seemed like the worst day of his life,” Boyle told me. “There was always this look on him that his dog had just died, a look of sadness and dread every day. After he was here for a while, I tried to reach out to him, and he barely whispered back.” He kept his distance from everyone else in the class. As Boyle put it, Matar was “the definition of a lone wolf.” In early August, Matar sent an e-mail to the gym dropping his membership. On the header, next to his name, was the image of the current Supreme Leader of Iran.
Matar read about Rushdie’s upcoming event at Chautauqua on Twitter. On August 11th, he took a bus to Buffalo and then hired a Lyft to bring him to the grounds. He bought a ticket for Rushdie’s appearance and killed time. “I was hanging around pretty much,” he said in a brief interview in the New York Post. “Not doing anything in particular, just walking around.”
In Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth,” a radicalized young man named Millat joins a group called kevin (Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation) and, along with some like-minded friends, heads for a demonstration against an offending novel and its author: “ ‘You read it?’ asked Ranil, as they whizzed past Finsbury Park. There was a general pause. Millat said, ‘I haven’t exackly read it exackly—but I know all about that shit, yeah?’ To be more precise, Millat hadn’t read it.” Neither had Matar. He had looked at only a couple of pages of “The Satanic Verses,” but he had watched videos of Rushdie on YouTube. “I don’t like him very much,” he told the Post. “He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.” He pronounced the author “disingenuous.”
Rushdie was accustomed to events like the one at Chautauqua. He had done countless readings, panels, and lectures, even revelled in them. His partner onstage, Henry Reese, had not. To settle his nerves, Reese took a deep breath and gazed out at the crowd. It was calming, all the friendly, expectant faces. Then there was noise—quick steps, a huffing and puffing, an exertion. Reese turned to the noise, to Rushdie. A black-clad man was all over the writer. At first, Reese said, “I thought it was a prank, some really bad-taste imitation attack, something like the Will Smith slap.” Then he saw blood on Rushdie’s neck, blood flecked on the backdrop with Chautauqua signage. “It then became clear there was a knife there, but at first it seemed like just hitting. For a second, I froze. Then I went after the guy. Instinctively. I ran over and tackled him at the back and held him by his legs.” Matar had stabbed Rushdie about a dozen times. Now he turned on Reese and stabbed him, too, opening a gash above his eye.
A doctor who had had breakfast with Rushdie that morning was sitting on the aisle in the second row. He got out of his seat, charged up the stairs, and headed for the melee. Later, the doctor, who asked me not to use his name, said he was sure that Reese, by tackling Matar, had helped save the writer’s life. A New York state trooper put Matar in handcuffs and led him off the stage.
Rushdie was on his back, still conscious, bleeding from stab wounds to the right side of his neck and face, his left hand, and his abdomen just under his rib cage. By now, a firefighter was at Rushdie’s side, along with four doctors—an anesthesiologist, a radiologist, an internist, and an obstetrician. Two of the doctors held Rushdie’s legs up to return blood flow to the body. The fireman had one hand on the right side of Rushdie’s neck to stanch the bleeding and another hand near his eye. The fireman told Rushdie, “Don’t blink your eye, we are trying to stop the bleeding. Keep it closed.” Rushdie was responsive. “O.K. I agree,” he said. “I understand.”
Rushdie’s left hand was bleeding badly. Using a pair of scissors, one of the doctors cut the sleeve off his jacket and tried to stanch the wound with a clean handkerchief. Within seconds, the handkerchief was saturated, the blood coming out “like holy hell,” the doctor recalled. Someone handed him a bunch of paper towels. “I squeezed the tissues as hard as I possibly could.”
“I’m going to exaggerate the size of the fish.”
“What’s going on with my left hand?” Rushdie said. “It hurts so much!” There was a spreading pool of blood near his left hip.
E.M.T.s arrived, hooked Rushdie up to an I.V., and eased him onto a stretcher. They wheeled him out of the amphitheatre and got him on a helicopter, which transferred him to a Level 2 trauma center, Hamot, part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Rushdie had travelled alone to Chautauqua. Back in New York, his wife, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, got a call at around midday telling her that her husband had been attacked and was in surgery. She raced to arrange a flight to Erie and get to the hospital. When she arrived, he was still in the operating room.
In Chautauqua, people walked around the grounds in a daze. As one of the doctors who had run onto the stage to help Rushdie told me, “Chautauqua was the one place where I felt completely at ease. For a second, it was like a dream. And then it wasn’t. It made no sense, then it made all the sense in the world.”
Rushdie was hospitalized for six weeks. In the months since his release, he has mostly stayed home save for trips to doctors, sometimes two or three a day. He’d lived without security for more than two decades. Now he’s had to rethink that.
Just before Christmas, on a cold and rainy morning, I arrived at the midtown office of Andrew Wylie, Rushdie’s literary agent, where we’d arranged to meet. After a while, I heard the door to the agency open. Rushdie, in an accent that bears traces of all his cities—Bombay, London, New York—was greeting agents and assistants, people he had not seen in many months. The sight of him making his way down the hall was startling: He has lost more than forty pounds since the stabbing. The right lens of his eyeglasses is blacked over. The attack left him blind in that eye, and he now usually reads with an iPad so that he can adjust the light and the size of the type. There is scar tissue on the right side of his face. He speaks as fluently as ever, but his lower lip droops on one side. The ulnar nerve in his left hand was badly damaged.
Rushdie took off his coat and settled into a chair across from his agent’s desk. I asked how his spirits were.
“Well, you know, I’ve been better,” he said dryly. “But, considering what happened, I’m not so bad. 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. I’m doing a lot of hand therapy, and I’m told that I’m doing very well.”
“Can you type?”
“Not very well, because of the lack of feeling in the fingertips of these fingers.”
What about writing?
“I just write more slowly. But I’m getting there.”
Sleeping has not always been easy. “There have been nightmares—not exactly the incident, but just frightening. 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.”
More than once, Rushdie looked around the office and smiled. “It’s great to be back,” he said. “It’s someplace which is not a hospital, which is mostly where I’ve been to. And to be in this agency is—I’ve been coming here for decades, and it’s a very familiar space to me. And to be able to come here to talk about literature, talk about books, to talk about this novel, ‘Victory City,’ to be able to talk about the thing that most matters to me . . .”
At this meeting and in subsequent conversations, I sensed conflicting instincts in Rushdie when he replied to questions about his health: there was the instinct to move on—to talk about literary matters, his book, anything but the decades-long fatwa and now the attack—and the instinct to be absolutely frank. “There is such a thing as P.T.S.D., you know,” he said after a while. “I’ve found it very, very difficult to write. I sit down to write, and nothing happens. 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.”
He added, “I’ve simply never allowed myself to use the phrase ‘writer’s block.’ Everybody has a moment when there’s nothing in your head. And you think, Oh, well, there’s never going to be anything. One of the things about being seventy-five and having written twenty-one books is that you know that, if you keep at it, something will come.”
Had that happened in the past months?
Rushdie frowned. “Not really. I mean, I’ve tried, but not really.” He was only lately “just beginning to feel the return of the juices.”
How to go on living after thinking you had emerged from years of threat, denunciation, and mortal danger? And now how to recover from an attack that came within millimetres of killing you, and try to live, somehow, as if it could never recur?
He seemed grateful for a therapist he had seen since before the attack, a therapist “who has a lot of work to do. He knows me and he’s very helpful, and I just talk things through.”
The talk was plainly in the service of a long-standing resolution. “I’ve always tried very hard not to adopt the role of a victim,” he said. “Then you’re just sitting there saying, Somebody stuck a knife in me! Poor me. . . . Which I do sometimes think.” He laughed. “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.”
Many years ago, he recalled, there were people who seemed to grow tired of his persistent existence. “People didn’t like it. Because I should have died. 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 fifteen stab wounds, much better.”
As he lay in the hospital, Rushdie received countless texts and e-mails sending love, wishing for his recovery. “I was in utter shock,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian novelist, told me. “I just didn’t believe he was still in any real danger. For two days, I kept vigil, sending texts to friends all over the world, searching the Internet to make sure he was still alive.” There was a reading in his honor on the steps of the New York Public Library.
For some writers, the shock brought certain issues into hard focus. “The attack on Salman clarified a lot of things for me,” Ayad Akhtar told me. “I know I have a much brighter line that I draw for myself between the potential harms of speech and the freedom of the imagination. They are incommensurate and shouldn’t be placed in the same paragraph.”
Rushdie was stirred by the tributes that his near-death inspired. “It’s very nice that everybody was so moved by this, you know?” he said. “I had never thought about how people would react if I was assassinated, or almost assassinated.”
And yet, he said, “I’m lucky. What I really want to say is that my main overwhelming feeling is gratitude.” He was grateful to those who showed their support. He was grateful to the doctors, the E.M.T. workers, and the fireman in Chautauqua who stanched his wounds, and he was grateful to the surgeons in Erie. “At some point, I’d like to go back up there and say thank you.” He was also grateful to his two grown sons, Zafar and Milan, who live in London, and to Griffiths. “She kind of took over at a point when I was helpless.” She dealt with the doctors, the police, and the investigators, and with transport from Pennsylvania to New York. “She just took over everything, as well as having the emotional burden of my almost being killed.”
Did he think it had been a mistake to let his guard down since moving to New York? “Well, I’m asking myself that question, and I don’t know the answer to it,” he said. “I did have more than twenty 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.”
Whom does he blame for the attack?
“I’ve tried very hard over these years to avoid recrimination and bitterness,” he said. “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.”
“I blame him,” he said.Cartoon by Tommy Siegel
Anyone else? Was he let down by security at Chautauqua?
The publication of “Victory City,” he made plain, was his focus. He’s interested to see how the novel will be received. Will it be viewed through the prism of the stabbing? He recalled the “sympathy wave” that came with “The Satanic Verses,” how sales shot up with the fatwa. It happened again after he was stabbed nearly to death last summer.
He is eager, always, to talk about the new novel’s grounding in Indian history and mythology, how the process of writing accelerated, just as it had with “Midnight’s Children,” once he found the voice of his main character; how the book can be read as an allegory about the abuse of power and the curse of sectarianism—the twin curses of India under its current Prime Minister, the Hindu supremacist Narendra Modi. But, once more, Rushdie knows, his new novel will have to compete for attention with the ugliness of real life. “I’m hoping that to some degree it might change the subject. I’ve always thought that my books are more interesting than my life,” he said. “Unfortunately, the world appears to disagree.”
Hadi Matar is being held in the Chautauqua County Jail, in the village of Mayville. He’s been charged with attempted murder in the second degree, which could bring twenty-five years in prison; he’s also been charged with assault in the second degree, for the attack on Henry Reese, which could bring an additional seven. The trial is unlikely to take place until next year.
“It’s a relatively simple event when you think about it,” Jason Schmidt, the Chautauqua County district attorney, told me. “We know this was a preplanned, unprovoked attack by an individual who had no prior interaction with the criminal-justice system.” The prosecutor’s job is no doubt made easier by the fact that there were hundreds of witnesses to the crime.
Matar is being represented by Nathaniel Barone, a public defender. At a court hearing not long after the stabbing, Barone accompanied Matar, who wore handcuffs, a face mask, and prison garb with broad black and white stripes. Matar’s hair and beard were closely cropped. He said very little save for his plea of not guilty. Barone, wearing a suit and tie, stood by his client. He seems unillusioned. When I suggested that he had a near-impossible case, he did not dispute it: “Almost to a person they are saying, ‘What is this guy’s defense? Everyone saw him do it!’ ” Barone said he has hundreds of expert witnesses on file, and he will be consulting some of them on matters of psychology and radicalization. He also indicated that he might challenge the admissibility of Matar’s interview with the New York Post, saying (without supplying any evidence) that it was possibly obtained under false pretenses. (The Post said that its journalist had identified himself and that “Mr. Matar absolutely understood that he was speaking to a reporter.”
It is unknown if Matar was acting under anyone’s tutelage or instructions, but the Iranian state media has repeatedly expressed its approval of his attempt to kill Rushdie. Just last month, Hossein Salami, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, said Matar had acted “bravely” and warned that the staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had been attacked by Muslim extremists in 2015, should consider “the fate” of Rushdie if it continues to mock Ayatollah Khamenei.
As for Matar’s mother and her remarks to the press about his behavior and their fraught relationship, Barone sighed and said, “Obviously, it’s always concerning when you see a description from the mother about your client which can be interpreted in a negative way.” He did not contest her remarks.
Barone has met with Matar on his cellblock and has found him coöperative. “I’ve had absolutely no problems with Mr. Matar,” he said. “He has been cordial and respectful, openly discussing things with me. He is a very sincere young man. It would be like meeting any young man. There’s nothing that sets him apart.”
Matar is in a “private area” of the cellblock. He spends much of his time reading the Quran and other material. “I’m getting to know him, but it’s not easy,” Barone said. “The reality of sitting in jail, incarcerated—it’s easy to have no hope. It’s easy to think things aren’t going to work out for you. But I tell clients you have to have hope.” He assured me that Matar “isn’t taking this lightly. Some people just don’t give a damn about things.”
Does he show any remorse?
Barone replied that he could not say “at this point.”
Rushdie told me that he thought of Matar as an “idiot.” He paused and, aware that it wasn’t much of an observation, said, “I don’t know what I think of him, because I don’t know him.” One had a faint sense of a writer grappling with a character—and a human being grappling with a nemesis—who remains frustratingly vaporous. “All I’ve seen is his idiotic interview in the New York Post. Which only an idiot would do. 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.”
Rushdie has spent these past months healing. He’s watched his share of “crap television.” He couldn’t find anything or anyone to like in “The White Lotus” (“Awful!”) or the Netflix documentary on Meghan and Harry (“The banality of it!”). The World Cup was an extended pleasure, though. He was thrilled by the advance of the Moroccans and the preternatural performances of France’s Kylian Mbappé and Argentina’s Lionel Messi, and he was moved by the support shown by players for the protests in Iran, which he hopes could be a “tipping point” for the regime in Tehran.
There will, of course, be no book tour for “Victory City.” But so long as his health is good and security is squared away he is hoping to go to London for the opening of “Helen,” his play about Helen of Troy. “I’m going to tell you really truthfully, I’m not thinking about the long term,” he said. “I’m thinking about little step by little step. I just think, Bop till you drop.”
When we picked up the subject a couple of weeks later, in a conversation over Zoom, he said, “I’ve got nothing else to do. I would like to have a second skill, but I don’t. I always envied writers like Günter Grass, who had a second career as a visual artist. I thought how nice it must be to spend a day wrestling with words, and then get up and walk down the street to your art studio and become something completely else. I don’t have that. So, all I can do is this. As long as there’s a story that I think is worth giving my time to, then I will. When I have a book in my head, it’s as if the rest of the world is in its correct shape.”
It’s “depressing” when he’s struggling at his desk, he admits. He wonders if the stories will come. But he’s still there, putting in the time.
Rushdie looked around his desk, gestured to the books that line the walls of his study. “I feel everything’s O.K. when I’m sitting here, and I have something to think about,” he said. “Because that takes over from the outside world. Of course, the interior world is connected to the exterior world, but, when you are in the act of making, it takes over from everything else.”
For now, he has set aside the idea for a novel inspired by Kafka and Mann, and is thinking through a kind of sequel to “Joseph Anton.” At first, he was irritated by the idea, “because it felt almost like it was being forced on me—the attack demanded that I should write about the attack.” In recent weeks, though, the idea has taken hold. Rushdie’s books tend to be imax-scale, large-cast productions, but in order to write about the attack in Chautauqua, an event that took place in a matter of seconds, he envisions something more “microscopic.”
And the voice would be different. The slightly distanced, third-person voice that “Joseph Anton” employed seems wrong for the task. “This doesn’t feel third-person-ish to me,” Rushdie said. “I think when somebody sticks a knife into you, that’s a first-person story. That’s an ‘I’ story.” ♦
Sack It To Me
I never thought the Robert Fontaine Gallery would ever be in my home. I chased him for years. He now opened a gallery two blocks away. We scored Ben Sack’s Graffiti Cosmopolitan, a Charcoal and Gold Leaf on Woven Cotton Paper. Ben we would love to meet you.