One of the great literary disputes of the last half century has formally ended after Salman Rushdie and ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ author John le Carre reconciled after 15 years.
The Guardian newspaper published a letter in November 1997 from Rushdie who had taken exception to what he saw as le Carre’s double standards when the latter stated that ‘great religions could not be insulted with impunity’; a reference to Rushdie’s controversial ‘Satanic Verses’.
A series of tit for tat letters followed between the authors with the debate degenerating into a mud-slinging match; Rushdie calling le Carre a ‘Pompous Ass’ and le Carre responding by branding Rushdie ‘arrogant’ and ‘self-serving’.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last month however, Rushdie declared that he was an admirer of le Carre’s work and wished the feud had not taken place.
“I think of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ is one of the great novels of post-war Britain”, Rushdie said.
Le Carre also told The Times that he ‘regretted the dispute’, adding: “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 follows the truce called by Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul last year after a feud equal in length to that of Rushdie and le Carre’s but one which was far more incendiary.