Hitchens on Rushdie

Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic:

RushdieSalman Rushdie is so much identified with seriousness—his choice of subjects, from Kashmir to Andalusia; his position as a literary negotiator of East and West; his decade and more of internal exile in hiding from the edict of a fanatical theocrat—that it can be easy to forget how humorous he is. In much the same way, his extraordinary knowledge of classical literature sometimes causes people to overlook his command of the vernacular. Here are two examples of wit and idiom from his latest fiction, The Enchantress of Florence. In the first, an enigmatic wanderer, appareled in a coat of many colors, enters a splendid city:

Not far from the caravanserai, a tower studded with elephant tusks marked the way to the palace gate. All elephants belonged to the emperor, and by spiking a tower with their teeth he was demonstrating his power. Beware! the tower said. You are entering the realm of the Elephant King, a sovereign so rich in pachyderms that he can waste the gnashers of a thousand of the beasts just to decorate me.

This is the offbeat manner in which one might start a tale for children, as Rushdie did in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. By contrast, here is Ago Vespucci in Florence, trying by strenuous exercise in a whorehouse to cure his revulsion at the entry of the king of France to the city.

On the threshold of manhood Ago had agreed with his friend Niccolò “il Machia” on one thing: whatever hardships the times might bring, a good, energetic night with the ladies would put everything right. “There are few woes in the world, dear Ago,” il Machia had advised him when they were still only thirteen, “that a woman’s fanny will not cure.”

More here.