Books·My Life in Books

Salman Rushdie: 6 surreal masterpieces you should read

The author shares 6 books that shaped their life and work.
Salman Rushdie is the author of 13 novels that have been translated into over 40 languages. (CBC Arts)

Happy birthday to Salman Rushdie who turns 72 on June 19, 2019.  He's written 13 novels — his latest a modern-day political thriller called The Golden House — with a 14th, Quichotte, on the way this fall.

Rushdie is a world-renowned and bestselling novelist, known for his fatwa-inciting The Satanic Verses and the Man Booker Prize-winning Midnight's Children

In 2015, we asked Rushdie to share some books that have shaped his life and work.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail Bulgakov is the author of The Master & Margarita. (Penguin Classics)

"The Devil comes to Moscow and, of course, makes trouble, accompanied by a cat shooting six-guns and an associate who disappears when he turns sideways. But he also assists a writer, known as the Master, who has been writing the story of Christ from the point of view of Pontius Pilate and, in despair, has burned the only manuscript. But, the Devil says, manuscripts don't burn. And there the book is, unharmed and intact. One of the greatest Russian novels. Stalin didn't like it."

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is the author of The Sirens of Titan. (WNET-TV/ PBS/Dial Press)

"This is a real delight. Among its leading characters are a certain Winston Niles Rumfoord who, along with his dog Kazak, accidentally enters a 'chrono-synclastic infundibulum' and gets stretched out across space and time. There is also a Martian invasion of the Earth, and Salo, a messenger from the planet Tralfamadore stranded on the moon by a spacecraft malfunction. After that the Tralfamadorians distort the whole of human history to get Salo the spare part he needs. (The Great Wall of China is a message from Tralfamadore and so is the Kremlin. Draw your own conclusions.)"

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Russell Hoban is the author of Riddley Walker. (John Carey, Indiana University Press)

"An unjustly forgotten novel that is utterly unlike anything else, a portrait of a world after a nuclear holocaust — the explosion of the '1 Big 1,' written in a brilliantly fractured language in which a bomb appears to have exploded as well. Folktale and science fiction blend in this portrait of a devastated world trying once again to become, and Riddley Walker's riddles may contain the secrets which, if unlocked, will provide the key."

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Angela Carter is the author of the The Bloody Chamber. (British Library Board, Penguin Classics)

"Carter's sensual, erotic retellings of fairy tales and folk tales — her 'wolf stories' — blend Snow White, Red Riding Hood and Beauty (of the Beast) into shape-shifting creations that are Carter's own. In these tales a girl attacked by a wolf can love the wolf or even become a wolf herself; the beauty can be beastly too."

Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo

Juan Rulfo was a Mexican writer, screenwriter and photographer. (Grove Press)

"A short hypnotic novel which Jorge Luis Borges thought to be one of the best books ever written in any language, and which Gabriel García Márquez claimed to have memorized, and which, he said, unblocked his imagination and allowed him to create Macondo, the world of One Hundred Years of Solitude. A man named Juan Preciado is told by his mother on her deathbed to go to the town of Comala and find his father, Pedro Páramo, and get what he is owed. Juan Preciado embarks on the journey and as he nears Comala falls into a nightmarish world that may be populated entirely by ghosts."

The Non-Existent Knight by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino is the author The Nonexistent Knight. (Mariner Books)

"This is a fable, set at the time of the emperor Charlemagne, about an empty suit of armour that believes itself to be a knight and keeps itself going by willpower and strict adherence to the rules of chivalry. It's one third of a trilogy of fantastic fables jointly known as 'Our Ancestors.' The others, The Cloven Viscount and The Baron in the Trees, are just as good."