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Author Salman Rushdie at The New Yorker Festival in New York on Oct. 7. (AP)

Salman Rushdie, John Le Carre End Literary Feud

by Krishnadev Calamur
Nov 12, 2012

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Author John le Carre poses for photographers following a ceremony at Oxford University on June 20.

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Krishnadev Calamur

It began with a war of words in the letters pages of the Guardian and ended with comments made to The Times of London. It took 15 years, but, as the Guardian reports, the feud between writers Salman Rushdie and John le Carre is at an end.

The spat began in 1997 when Le Carre, the author of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and other novels, wrote to the Guardian, complaining that the forces of political correctness in the U.S. had unfairly described him as anti-Semitic for his portrayal of a character in the novel The Tailor of Panama. Rushdie responded with a letter of his own, saying he wished Le Carre had felt the same way when Rushdie was targeted by an Iranian fatwa for his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims view as anti-Islamic.

Here's how Le Carre, whose real name is David Cornwell, described his view of The Satanic Verses:

"My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity."

The war of words didn't end with that. It played out in true pre-Internet fashion in the letters pages - with Rushdie calling Le Carre "a pompous ass," and Le Carre accusing the Booker Prize-winner of "self-canonization."

Here's how The New York Times reported on the spat at the time:

"The exchanges have taken place in a time-honored arena for mudslinging in Britain, the letters page of a newspaper, The Guardian. While other parts of the paper were covering the continuing push in high places to have Britain portrayed as a sensitive, caring, compassionate nation, Mr. le Carre and Mr. Rushdie were striking blows in the letters columns for the tradition of literary invective."

Rushdie extended the olive branch last month, when he told a British literature festival that he admired Le Carre as a writer.

"I wish we hadn't done it," he said, of the feud. "I think of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as one of the great novels of postwar Britain."

Le Carre responded Monday, telling The Times, "I too regret the dispute."

Here's more of Le Carre's comments:

"I admire Salman for his work and his courage, and I respect his stand. Does that answer the larger debate which continues to this day?

"Should we be free to burn Korans, mock the passionately held religions of others? Maybe we should - but should we also be surprised when the believers we have offended respond in fury? I couldn't answer that question at the time and, with all good will, I still can't. But I am a little proud, in retrospect, that I spoke against the easy trend, reckoning with the wrath of outraged western intellectuals, and suffering it in all its righteous glory. And if I met Salman tomorrow? I would warmly shake the hand of a brilliant fellow writer."

The reconciliation between the two writers follows the rapprochement between writers V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux last year. My colleague Eyder Peralta reported on it at the time, as did The New Yorker, which posted a video of the two men shaking hands after a long falling out.

(h/t Salon)

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