Book review: Languages of Truth

Languages of Truth

Languages of Truth:
Essays 2003-2020
by Salman Rushdie
Random House
368 pages

Buy the book

My discovery of Salman Rushdie’s writing is definitely not the normal one.
I have yet to read his most famous books. The only novel I have read so far is Quichotte, which I found quite impressive.

Even though I totally disagree with the author’s views on religion, I find him to be one of the most profound minds in literature today, and one of the most articulate voices, alongside the alas departed Umberto Eco, one of his friends, as expected. Les grands esprits se rencontrent.

So when I realized a volume of recent essays was being published —Languages of Truth is the third collection of his essays– I knew it was appropriate to spend more time with this brilliant author.  

I think the title is definitely key here, as Rushdie focuses on perception and treatment of truth in our common society – though ill-treatment would be a more fitting word here, as highlighted by our author.
He does so turning to various languages, languages using words (notably English as spoken in the US, in England, and in India –especially in his essay on Philip Roth) and also the artistic language. 

This collection is comprised of various texts written during the first two decades of the 21st century, including speeches never previously offered in print.

I totally recognized the exquisite storyteller I discovered in Quichotte, as he uses here his wit and elaborate thinking to expose truths regarding many themes in our current society and culture, especially migration (deeply inspired by his own personal experience over three continents).

In literature, he refers to classics (Heraclitus, Cervantes, Shakespeare) as well as more recent authors, Philip Roth for instance, and many more!
Most of the essays in the third part are related to his work for The International PEN. The writings in the 4th part are on artists (painters, photographers, etc). 

The first essay, Wonder Tales, brilliantly reflects on how stories and literature make and transform us. In this text (as in some others), Rushdie often refers to his own writing and life.

I believe that the books and stories we fall in love with make us who we are, or, not to claim too much, that the act of falling in love with a book or story changes us in some way.

It is an interesting question to ask oneself: Which are the books that you truly love? Try it. The answer will tell you a lot about who you presently are.

The stories ask the greatest and most enduring question of literature: How do ordinary people respond to the arrival in their lives of the extraordinary?

I also enjoyed especially his explanations on magical realism (actually in that respect, I’m surprised Murakami is hardly ever mentioned):

In William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, R. K. Narayan’s Malgudi, and, yes, the Macondo of Gabriel García Márquez, imagination is used to enrich reality, not to escape from it; the wonderful has deep roots in the real and for that reason is able to use the surreal to create metaphors and images of the real that come to feel more real than reality, more truthful than the truth…
But if magic realism were just magic, it wouldn’t matter. It would be mere whimsy—writing in which, because anything can happen, nothing has affect. It’s because the magic in magic realism has deep roots in the real, because it grows out of the real and illuminates it in beautiful and unexpected ways, that it works.

I was delighted to find the following remark by Susan Sontag. That confirms my opinion that in literature, the importance is in the quality of the writing. My dream would be that when works are presented for awards, we would not know anything about the authors, about their age, gender, nationality, skin color. And if one year all winners are all women, or all men, so what? We would only judge the quality of their writing.
Here is the passage I’m referring to:

Many women at the congress demanded, with much justification, to know why there were so few women on the panels. Sontag and Gordimer, both panelists, did not join the revolt. It was Susan [Sontag] who came up with the argument that “literature is not an equal-opportunity employer.” This remark did not improve the protesters’ mood. Nor, I suspect, did my own intervention. I pointed out that while there were, after all, several women on the various panels, I was the sole representative of the Indian subcontinent, which was to say, of one-fifth of the human race. (In 1986 the population of the world was approximately five billion people, and India alone accounted for eight hundred million. Add Pakistan and Bangladesh, and you had one billion people represented by this lone writer.)

My biggest discoveries made through this book pertain actually more to the world of plastic art, especially : the Hamzanama, Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003), please check his amazing paintings, and Kara Walker with her amazing shadow figures.

This could be a dangerous book for your TBR, as it contains so many references to books in many genres. And the way Rushdie talks about them, you will feel you absolutely need to read them all!

VERDICT: A brilliant mind reflects on important ways to approach truth today. Sure to broaden your cultural horizons.

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What’s your favorite book by Salman Rushdie?

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook through Netgalley. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


35 thoughts on “Book review: Languages of Truth

  1. “I believe that the books and stories we fall in love with make us who we are, or, not to claim too much, that the act of falling in love with a book or story changes us in some way.”

    At our book club meeting last night, one of the members reflected on the way she had fallen in love with the character of Anne of Green Gables. “She’s the best person I’ve ever met, in or out of a book,” the member told us.

    I’ve been thinking about this.


  2. I’ve only read The Satanic Verses for a college class and I didn’t much like it, but I’d be very interested in reading his essays. I’m not even sure I realized he had an essay collection published. Thanks for the introduction to this!


  3. I’ve read two Rushdie books, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights – which had too much magic for my taste, and; The Golden House, which I loved. My sister thinks I should read his Midnight’s Children, which she says is one of her favorite novels of all time. I almost never read essays, but these sound pretty good. The only essays I’ve ever read were “Night Walks” by Charles Dickens. They were really good to begin with, but I didn’t understand the political ones that were included in the collection.


  4. I haven’t read any Rushdie, but will get there. One day… I like the question: Which are the books that you truly love? But I am not sure what my answer would be or at least my answer would depend on when you ask me. I suppose that says a lot about me as a person as well! 🙄😆


  5. I was waiting for your review on this. Delighted to know this is as good as was promised. There’s something wonderful about authors drawing chains through past groundbreaking works and quoting from them/ about their lives. Looks brilliant!


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  7. I’ve only read Midnight’s Children by him, which I found challenging. But I have wanted to read more from him. As Marianne states above, he’s one of those writers it’s hard to ignore. This collection sounds fascinating,


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