Cover Image: Languages of Truth

Languages of Truth

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Member Reviews

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

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

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.

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 like you absolutely need to read them all!

The review on my blog contains quotations from the book
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“Only write what you know if what you know is interesting. If you live in a neighborhood like Harper Lee’s or William Faulkner’s, by all means feel free to tell heated tales of your own personal Yoknapatawpha, and you’ll probably find you never need to leave home at all. But unless what you know is really interesting, don’t write about it. Write what you don’t know.” (From Wonder Tales)

This is a collection of essays by the author. Some were previously published but have been reworked. Included are college lectures, commencement speeches, magazine articles and introductions to books and exhibit catalogs. Among the themes touched upon are artistic expression, censorship, politics, religion, art, literature and the pandemic. 

I especially enjoyed: 

Wonder Tales, about writing. 

Proteus, also about writing. “I say this as a person who believes in neither God nor the devil, I believe only in Virgil, but I understand the nature of the contract of fiction, so I can agree to suspend disbelief in what I know is not to be believed in the hope of finding, by doing so, some truth on which I can rely, in which I can have faith.”

Gabo and I. It includes an explanation and assessment of magical realism, but I still don’t want to read any more of that.

Autobiography and the Novel. When asked whether your novel is autobiographical, the author suggests that you just say yes, it’s completely autobiographical and then you can move on to more interesting topics. 

The Liberty Instinct. About religion. “If I had stood before you a decade ago, I might have argued here that religious extremism was the greatest threat to liberty we faced. I did not foresee what seems to me to be a secularization of that fanaticism. The Trump phenomenon has all the qualities of a religious cult, in which truth becomes what the leader says it is, and only what he says it is, and in which evil becomes everything that is outside the cult.”

Carrie Fisher. The author and actor were close friends. 

Pandemic. The author’s personal experience with COVID-19. 

I wasn’t particularly interested in the essays about photographers and painters, although they were well-written. The essays were interesting, perceptive and witty, but I prefer his fiction. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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This volume includes a series of essays written over a period of almost 20 years, so they are quite varied and on a wide range of topics. In the first essay Rushdie relates how he first listened to stories as a child at the feet of his parents and grandfather. Reading his work, I feel like a child at the feet of an elder, rapt, and amazed by the wonders filling my mind. His fiction holds a special place in my heart. I only let myself read one of his books a year because I don’t ever want to run out of new stories. I guess I’m a super-fan! I think this collection is the first Rushdie non-fiction I have read. and I was eager to enter his mind in a different way.

His distinct voice is clear in any genre--clever, funny, and a bit naughty. While I haven’t read all the books that he discusses, not even close, I found his take on them interesting and intelligent. He helps me see and understand the value of these sometimes-dusty stories. Instead of being dazzled by the glitter and glamour of the newest best seller, I may even be inspired to tackle some of those hoary old classics I’ve been putting off.

While I love Rushdie, I don’t always agree with his opinions. They are always thoughtful and beautifully written. They make me think more deeply about the world and our place as thinking humans within it. Reading these essays, I did find that sometimes he can be a touch elitist and condescending. He writes and prefers “Literature” with a capital L. In one of the first essays, he trashes popular novels such as Twilight and The Hunger Games as worthless. Sorry dear sir, I love you to pieces but those stories are meant for teens and not the likes of you or I. We are not the target audience, so it is no surprise that Young Adult stories don’t always resonate with older readers. They aren’t meant to be for us (the middle aged or straight up old) they are for them (the youths) and seem to connect just fine with their intended readers.

Despite a few minor quibbles, these essays were a joy to read. It took me an inordinately long time to get through this book as I wanted to and needed to pause after each essay and digest what I had just consumed. This isn’t a quick or easy read. It is incredibly dense with information and ideas. You can’t just fly though the pages thoughtlessly to get to the end. It is demanding and exacting but also rewarding. (Maybe just ignore the literary snobbery regarding popular YA books.)

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Random House for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
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Languages of Truth is a collection of essays and speeches that Salman Rushdie has written or delivered over the years. Most of these are relatively short, which makes it digestible and easy to pick away at over time. Topics range from literature and writing to world events and dedications. My favorite ones were actually the first three in the book (the ones on storytelling), which were also read by Rushdie himself in the audiobook.

I did read (or listen to) all of this one, but there were definitely some essays that I didn’t follow or understand as well as others, just because he was talking about an author or an event that I wasn’t familiar with. So I’d encourage you not to be afraid to skip around and over anything that doesn’t seem like it’s for you; the book will still be worth your time.

All in all, I’m always glad to have more of Rushdie’s brain in my brain!
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These essays span a wide range of time, themes, and topics. As we've come to expect from Rushdie, he alternates between glib and profound quite easily, dismissive in one take and controversial in another. Yet, Rushdie is the kind of writer who can make even the banal worth paying attention to. A master at his craft, even when he makes throwaway remarks here.
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Salman Rushdie’s essay collection, Languages of Truth spans over almost two decades. In this collection, Rushdie covers storytelling, writing, art and his views on the world with a few sprinkles of name-dropping. Rushdie also illustrates a vulnerable look into his personal life. 

His literary voice is singular and his perspective is unique. Rushdie’s wit and wisdom is enlightening and his reflections are full of shocking insight. 

I was enthralled from the very first essay to the last one. However, the essays that lost my full attention were ones where I needed to know some more background of the topic being discussed. I feel this to be true for almost every essay collection but reading Rushdie’s musings has been an enriching experience. This is the first time I’ve read Salman Rushdie’s work and I cannot wait to dive into his fictional stories soon. 

Thank you Salman Rushdie, Penguin Random House and NetGalley for this advance review copy.
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I'm not really an essay reader, but will read literally anything like Rushdie writes. Some of these pieces were familiar to me already, and many were new. He is witty as ever and points out truths that are universal but maybe don't stand out to all. While his fiction is my preference, I still loved this.
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I'm not usually one for collections of essays or short stories, but I'll make an exception for this. Not only were the essays fantastic, but they made me want to stop and go read (or reread) whatever he was talking about.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and Random House for a copy of this book.

Languages of Truth: Essays 2003-2020, the new collection of essays by the writer Salman Rushdie is not only well written, as goes without saying, and well argued, but is filled with the trenchant criticism, jokes and pop culture references and personal reflections long time readers have come to expect. Culled from introductions from literary collections, college lectures and other media, the essays cover classical literature, writers of repute and a few of ill repute, and his interplay with celebrity. From Philip Roth, Carrie Fisher and Heraclitus, Mr. Rushdie writes with both knowledge of the subject and asides for the reader to enjoy. His most personal essay is the last, detailing his bout with COVID, and how it affected him and the way he sees life. Another outstanding collection, which after he last chapter excites the reader to know that there will be more.
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What a treat.  This collection of 38 essays, divided into four sections, comprises previously published essays, unpublished essays and speeches.  Rushdie has always been a vibrant writer and incisive commentator and this collection highlights his interest in truth, language, and art. It's impossible to categorize.  I dipped in and out to savor the philosophical perspective he brings to everything as well as the writing.  Thanks to netgalley for the ARC.  One to put by your side.
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In addition to publications, many of the essays compiled here come from lectures or presentations given by Rushdie over the years, providing the reader the opportunity to sit in the classroom or the audience and learn from a master. Whether it is the craft of writing or political events, each topic is approached with confidence and laser focus. At times, perhaps, the confidence crosses the line into arrogance, but with the many years of success as well as the dues he has paid, Rushdie can probably be forgiven for flexing his rhetorical muscles a bit. This is a collection that can be returned to over time, in much the same way as it came about. It is a legacy preserved for sure.

Thank you to Salman Rushdie, Random House, and NetGalley for an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.
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There are 38 essays in this collection, so it should come as no surprise that the subjects are wide-ranging.  The emphasis is on the arts, ALL of the arts, including literature, films, stage, painting, and photography. Given Rushdie’s background it is also not surprising that the scope is worldwide, including persons most Americans have probably never heard of. There are also perspectives on society around the world, with some special emphasis on Rushdie’s native India. Some get personal, including beautiful homages to deceased friends like Carrie Fisher, Harold Pinter, and Christopher Hitchens and an account of Rushdie’s own “personal engagement with the coronavirus”. 
These essays are beautifully written, but what made them stand out to me was the sheer breadth of the author’s knowledge about these subjects, as well as his personal acquaintance with just about every prominent person in the arts of the past 50 years. How many authors are likely to cite both Heraclitus and Popeye the Sailor on the same page? These are not just recitations of what Rushdie knows. There are thoughtful analyses of his subjects. 
The scope may also, however, present some problems for readers. I do not think anyone except Rushdie is likely to be familiar with everyone he cites in the essays. Sometimes he explains enough for the reader to grasp his point even when the work or person is unfamiliar, but sometimes he does not. I found myself resorting to Google on numerous occasions. Also, some essays are very specific, e.g., “Samuel Beckett’s Novels”, and readers like me who are not Beckett fans may just not be interested.  Others may not want to see his political views creep into essays on other subjects.  Since these are separate essays, if you do not find an essay of interest, you can skip to the next with no loss of context. On the other hand, an essay on a topic new to you can be fascinating. 
Even if you eliminate some essays, though, there is a lot to like and learn and admire in this book. The first essay alone, Wonder Tales, on the importance of stories, makes the book worthwhile. And the concluding essay, The Proust Questionnaire, will give you a picture of Salmon Rushdie that you are not likely to find anywhere else.
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Languages of Truth is a dizzying collection of insight and timely reflection from a celebrated author. Both an invitation and return visit to a talented and insightful literary voice.
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This may be my favorite book this year.  

So much to address here, so much richness on full display on a number of subjects and of course, literature being the most prominent as that is the what most people think of when they think of Sir Rushdie.   Along with the publication of George Saunders's A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, several of the entries included in this anthology present a master class in the understanding and exploration of the finer points of literature, as Rushdie has included lectures from his teachings at Emory University.  But it is his lifelong love of beauty and appreciation of art and artists that add additional shades to this collection.   Then again, there are musings on authors who have meant so much to him, presented with wit and humanity.  The fact that he has counted many friends among his subjects gives these an immediacy.  There are pieces he wrote as introductions to exhibition catalogues, addresses presented to the PEN Gala, and pieces honoring great dear friends as only he can.   Given the two novels he has published during years when America threatened to devolve into Trumpistan, I was not surprised at the NY Times article Truth in which he succinctly and eloquently provides the strongest argument against the perceived danger to art and artists presented by the "cabinet of billionaires."  

Altogether, this collection form a portrait of a man of exceedingly acute perception and humanity.
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