First aired on
Day 6 (11/28/10
Salman Rushdie is almost equally well known for the controversy surrounding his writing as he is for the work itself. In 1989, Rushdie was made the target of a fatwa issued by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini because of his novel The Satanic Verses. The fatwa called on Muslims to execute the writer for his blasphemous depiction of the Prophet.
As a result, Rushdie spent nine years in hiding until the Iranian leadership softened its position in 1998.
During that time, however, Rushdie refused to be silent. In fact, only a few months after the declaration of the fatwa, he began writing Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a children's book written for his then nine-year-old son, Zafar.
More than 20 years later, Rushdie has published his second children's book, Luka and the Fire of Life. It's a companion to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, written at the behest of Rushdie's other son, Milan, who found it unfair that he didn't have his own book, too.
In Luka and the Fire of Life, the 13-year-old title character (Haroun's younger brother) finds his storytelling father suddenly in dire need of help. To save him, Luka must cross the border into a magical world and bring its fire of life back home. The result is a multi-layered narrative that blends mythology and pop culture and places ancient gods and heroes in the midst of science fiction, fantasy and video games.
At its heart, though, Luka and the Fire of Life is very much the story of a son confronting his father's mortality.
"My son and I have a 50-year age gap," Rushdie told Day 6 host Brent Bambury. "When you have that gap, you always think about how long you're going to stick around."
The tale is also a commentary on writers' freedom to write what they choose and the threat represented by those who would restrict it. During his journey, Luka makes an unpleasant visit to the Respectorate of I, a place where everyone is extremely offended by almost everything.
"All kinds of interest groups have come to define themselves by what they claim offends them," Rushdie later said. "Everything offends sometimes. If offense becomes the borderline that you can't cross then the bookstores would be empty, radio programs would fall silent and nobody would be able to say anything."