When someone doesn’t want you to read a particular book, it’s a pretty good sign that you should do just that. After the brutal attack on Salman Rushdie last Friday, readers took to social media and magazines to say they were seeking out his work, especially his controversial 1988 magical-realist novel The Satanic Verses that led to a fatwa calling for his murder.
As of Wednesday morning, The Satanic Verses was the No. 2 seller in “Contemporary Literature & Fiction” on Amazon and the No. 50 best-selling book overall. “I just bought this book in response to extremists who try to silence people. You will not win,” read one recent five-star review. “Let’s get this one back up the charts,” declared another. Similarly, Rushdie’s 1981 Booker Prize–winning novel Midnight’s Children sits at No. 3 on the “Asian Myth & Legend” chart. Steph Opitz, the director of strategic partnerships at Bookshop.org, reports that “searches for The Satanic Verses and Salman Rushdie jumped over 10,000 percent last week, with The Satanic Verses hitting our top 10 most-searched-for books and No. 8 on our best-seller list.”
Rushdie was assaulted during a lecture in Chautauqua, New York, on Friday, suffering stab wounds to his neck, face, liver, and chest. The author’s condition is now stable and he is on the “road to recovery.” His assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, was arrested at the scene.
While no explicit motive for the attack was provided, Rushdie has had a death warrant hanging over his head for over 30 years because of alleged blasphemy in The Satanic Verses. Upon publication, the novel was banned in many countries, including Rushdie’s native India. In 1989, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s murder. While the fatwa received international condemnation both within the Islamic world and without, Rushdie was forced into hiding.
After Khomeini’s death, Iran’s government attempted to walk back the fatwa … sort of: In the late 1990s, the government said it would “neither support nor hinder assassination operations on Rushdie.” But despite Iranian organizations still offering a bounty of more than $3 million even as of this year, Rushdie has long been out of hiding. Indeed, the fatwa seemed so far in the rearview mirror that Rushdie joked about it in the 2017 season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which centered around Larry David promoting a musical called Fatwa!
If the August 12 attack was indeed related to The Satanic Verses, it would not be the first such assault. The novel’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was fatally stabbed in Tokyo in 1991, while the Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was shot multiple times in 1993, but survived. Rushdie related his experiences living under the death warrant in his 2012 memoir Joseph Anton, which was named after the alias Rushdie used while in hiding. That book? Now the No. 3 seller on Amazon in the category “Religious Intolerance and Persecution.”