‘In names’, writes Salman Rushdie, ‘are concealed our fates.’ His life has borne out this truism. His memoir, Joseph Anton, explains how his father adopted their surname in homage to the medieval Andalusian polymath Ibn Rushd, whose attempts to reconcile religious and secular philosophy pitted him in a battle of thought against the Muslim theologian Al-Ghazali – who was known as ‘Proof of Islam’ – and saw him exiled from Córdoba by the Ash’arite Muslim authorities, his books burned. Rushd’s story is a foreshadowing of the events that befell Rushdie in 1989, when a fatwa forced him into hiding following accusations of blasphemy in his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses.
The opening of Rushdie’s twelfth novel puts the disgraced Rushd in bed with the lusty Dunia, known as the Lightning Princess. She is from the supernatural race of jinn, amorphous ‘creatures made of smokeless fire’. Over the next 1,001 nights, Dunia becomes pregnant three times, each time bearing between seven and nineteen children – all born with no earlobes. When Rushd is summoned back to court, the abandoned Dunia slips ‘out of history’, leaving her children to fend for themselves. The philosopher even refuses to give his ‘bastard brood’ his