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"Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

Salman Rushdie’s just-released memoir “Knife” details the horrific assault and subsequent recovery from a near-fatal stabbing two years ago at a presentation in Chautauqua, New York.

The tragic incident on August 12, 2022, took the audience by surprise, the assailant dashing onto the stage and rendering 75-year-old Rushdie frozen in place by the sheer shock of the onslaught. Throughout his book, Rushdie refuses to name his 24-year-old assailant, referring to him only as “the A.” The man entered the building using a fake ID, his name a combination of “…well-known Shia Muslim extremists.”

The attack occurred 33 ½ years after a death threat was made on Rushdie’s life following the publication of his controversial novel “The Satanic Verses,” his fifth book (1988). The threat was issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and forced Rushdie into hiring security to keep him safe and to go into hiding. On that fateful August night, as “the A” came running toward him, Rushdie believed, though it had been many years, the threat on his life was finally being carried out.

Rushdie credits Henry Reese, also in his 70s, with saving his life, after Reese rushed onto the stage “and grabbed” his assailant. Additional help came from the audience, “I didn’t see their faces and I don’t know their names, but they were the first people to save my life. And so that Chautauqua morning I experienced both the worst and best of human nature almost simultaneously.”

The chilling, intimate account of the minutes after the stabbing are mind-numbing, Rushdie stressing how he watched the blood pool on the floor around him, thinking “that’s a lot of blood” and “I’m dying.” In 27 seconds, “the A” plunged his knife into Rushdie’s neck, right eye, left hand, abdomen and slashed his face, forehead, cheeks, mouth and chest. After he was helicoptered to the hospital, Rushdie was in surgery for “something like eight hours,” and then was required to be on a ventilator. His doctors prepared his wife Rachel Eliza Griffiths and family with their grim prognosis, that Rushdie might not recover with such catastrophic wounds.

Drugged and moving in and out of consciousness, Rushdie realized in the coming days that his loved ones were alongside him, but he couldn’t see them, his glasses having been broken in the attack. Of all of his wounds, the most dramatic was the loss of his right eye—the knife plunged in so deeply it damaged the optic nerve,

“Eliza and the others saw what looked like a sci-fi movie special effect, the eye hugely distended…hanging down my face like a large soft-boiled egg,” Rushdie writes. The knife also severed the tendons in his left hand, and damaged his liver and small intestine. Throughout his life, Rushdie’s biggest fear was losing his vision. After the attack, Rushdie has had to depend solely on his left eye, one afflicted with macular degeneration.

As Rushdie writes of his painstakingly slow recovery and months of rehabilitation, he intersperses his progress with reflections on a number of topics—his youth, his career as an author, his love affair and marriage to Eliza, the “decade of semi-underground life under police protection,” the reasons behind his being an atheist, and the lengthy, conversation/interview he imagined having with “the A,” who is now serving a prison sentence for his heinous act.

“Knife” is beautifully written, eloquent and heart-wrenching. While Rusdie, the acclaimed author of 15 novels, might remain controversial and unappreciated by some, one can’t question the brilliance of his career and his gift as a wordsmith. Add to that his honesty, courage and resilience.

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